Another Kind of Poverty | Letters | Chicago Reader

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Another Kind of Poverty



To the editors:

Thanks for the intense cover article "Getting Through the 80s" [February 2]. I appreciated such broad and objective coverage of human lives, painful as it was to read.

One point needs to be stressed time and time again--there are many kinds of poverty. I do wish the article had covered one person who doesn't fit stereotypical cliches. Perhaps they couldn't be found because they are in hiding, living "lies" such as I am.

My husband and I live in a supposedly "fashionable, yuppie" area near downtown. We were there before "they" came in droves, before all the buildings got sandblasted, and got new signs in postmodern colors. We both are white, college educated, and appear to "fit" in, if viewed on the street, a bus, or at a store.

We are both fighting alcoholism, have absolutely no insurance, and have about $25,000 worth of debts. My husband, having alcohol-induced convulsions, has been in and out of hospitals, and a $10,000 treatment center, which we can't pay for. We aren't working, and can barely pay each month's rent. It's a non-subsidized factory space, dirty and windowless, not hardly the "Eurostyle" loft this area is known for. A late-night, rowdy bar beneath, and bums in the hall really make the $250 rent increase we just got really worth it--yeah, right! We do owe our landlord $4,000 from last year. Not on a lease anymore, he could kick us out. But doesn't--I think he knows our situation--and allows us just to live, to survive. Besides, we have no place to go, and can't afford to move. Not yet at least--we have been selling all our possessions for the cash.

My husband is emotionally disabled, and after going through hell, finally got a green card, and food stamps. In all the multiple visits, he's been the only "white" person at the Public Aid office. Prone to severe panic attacks as well as convulsions, he can't work.

Why can't I work? I need a treatment center too (though I just found one that is free!). Once, I was a successful artist, published around the world. Over the years, co-dependency, alcohol, debt, and sickness took their toll, and I stopped functioning. Suffering a total breakdown, one can't just leap to one's feet and "get a job!" as many would retort.

I made sure I'd never have kids. Thanks to a few 12-step recovery programs, United Charities, and therapy, I'm starting to function after 5 years on the very bottom. It takes time to recover, if one can at all. And it's so damn embarrassing--it MUST all be a big secret, or a big lie--at least for me. No one can ever know about my life.

In response to "Be Kind to the Poor," a letter to the Editor in the 2/16/90 issue, I was disturbed by the person who gives $5.00 to women with small children, who "look like they need it." Years ago, as a prostitute, I observed more than a few of my co-workers using this con. Forcing their children to stand with them in the cold, the whimpers and cries attracted many "do-gooders." "Mom" would spend the daily "takes" on drugs or alcohol, or give it to her "man" if "work" had been really lousy. The poor child never got nothing, and had to scrounge garbage dumpsters for food and clothes. Even in our "neighborhood" I have seen one woman work the same corner day after day, as her four year old cries in the cold. She always needs money to go somewhere--but she never goes! It's an old con.

I don't mean to tell anyone what to do. Construing that someone is in need by looks alone is very blind-sighted in my opinion. It makes the giver feel that they've done their Christian duty for the day. Only they are not thinking beyond the moment. Could someone feel that God keeps a score card and awards points for such generosity?

We hate Cook County Hospital, and the embarrassment of food stamps, but we are truly grateful for these social services. Always, though, are the stares of incredulous people, who can't believe we could possibly need help. We still wear nice clothes--clothes bought 8-10 years ago, that are getting holes, and threadbare. So we don't "look the part" to most folks.

Like most of the people in the "Eighties" article--my husband and I have a small chance of surviving the 90's, too. Thanks for allowing another point of view.

No name, please


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