I used to have a relatively normal life. I had a decent job as meetings manager for a highly exclusive annual medical conference on HIV/AIDS research. It only paid $40K a year but even in D.C. I managed to get by on that low salary. My life wasn’t exactly prosperous but I paid my bills and went to movies and out to eat on a fairly regular basis. I was satisfied enough with my life.
However, that job — due to no fault of my own — went away. I was jobless and eventually became homeless. I was introduced to a whole different life; a life of poverty I am still in today some 10 years later. Although at least I’m no longer homeless I’m still dirt poor.
I’m almost 60 and have physical and mental health issues that make getting a job like I had before difficult if not impossible. I’m not necessarily bitter about the new road life put me on. My eyes have seen much that I otherwise would not have seen. I’ve learned things, meaningful things I wouldn’t have learned had it not been for taking this walk on the other side of the tracks.
I’ve seen and experienced first hand the plight of the poor. The deck is most definitely stacked against us. Even for those of us who are blessed with a higher intellect and or other gifts and abilities we face an uphill climb out of our situations.
I’ve seen how poverty affects nearly every aspect of life. I’ve seen how poverty and lack of decent education lead to substance abuse and criminal activity, mainly habitual thievery just to survive. I don’t fault poor folks for this. Substance abuse is simply an attempt to make the pain of poverty go away even if but for a short time. And petty thievery is but a means of supporting the substance abuse.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all poor people steal or have substance abuse problems. That would be a false and foolish over generalization. But many of my fellow poor folks do and I can understand why. Our lives are hard and miserable. And most people not in our situation don’t care nor do they wish to understand or care. Oh sure there are programs to help. But if those programs were all that great or effective then why are there so many of us still suffering and struggling?
My current only source of income is occasionally getting an article printed in Street Sense and for singing church songs at Pentagon City Metro station. I’ve tried several times to get disability benefits but I always get turned down. They say even with my disabilities there must be some kind of work I can find. I’d like for the system that tells me that to do more to help me find what that work is. But the system doesn’t care. The system just wants me to give up and leave it alone. The system is designed to turn people away in hope that they give up and go away.
I would love to return to the life I once had but I don’t know if that’s a realistic dream. Maybe poverty is my destiny. If it is I suppose I’ll just have to accept it. But that’s okay because I feel I’m a better person on the inside now than I ever would have been if the bottom hadn’t fallen out on my old life of relative prosperity. Poverty has been a powerful teacher. And I’m overall thankful for the experience.