On Poverty


For the past eight days, we've had essentially no running water in our home.

It started a few weeks ago when our water pressure dropped drastically and it took several days of phone calls to our landlord to get someone out for repairs. When a plumber finally did come out, he turned the water off completely and said he couldn't fix the pipes. They were too corroded to touch. A second plumber came out the next day and concluded the same thing. Our family of five plus our housemate spent the better part of every day simply trying to survive: Cooking, flushing, washing dishes, cleaning up spills, and even brushing teeth and faces required exhausting levels of work. We hauled water from our friend's house down the street in a Rubbermaid bin and gallons of plastic bottles, lasting us two days at a time before doing it all over again. There was not a single gesture of help or accommodation from our landlord; not one sincere word of regret or condolence.

After five days another plumber came, patched up more than one hole and left, supplying a barely usable trickle of water- not enough to run a washing machine, shower thoroughly, or even flush the toilet. He said it was the city's valve that was faulty. Days after that someone from the city finally showed up, found the mysterious last leak, and patched it up.

Water had been spewing at four gallons a minute, he said. The landlord vaguely assured us we'd "work something out" when we got the water bill. He has yet to decide how much of a discount to give us from our rent this month, despite us demanding it be at least half the norm. The ball is in his court, and he knows it.


Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about being denied basic human dignity.


Maybe it's easy to hear this story and assume we're getting what we pay for. Unfortunately, that's not the case. We've never paid anything close to the rent we're paying on this house (you'd be appalled if I told you) and it's in the worst shape of anywhere we've ever lived. We had very few choices of rental properties that were in the area of town that is accessible to people without cars- the people we hope to open up hospitable arms to. The further you go out to the 'burbs, the cheaper (and nicer) the properties get. But no one in need can get to you. Which is maybe the point.

But our motives weren't completely altruistic- they were practical too. Our housemate doesn't own a car and needs to be within biking distance to work and other places. Our family only has one car so most days one of us must be able to walk or bike to where we need to go as well. There are two universities in this town and landlords know they can hike the price up if the location is right, because students can cram four or five friends in a house and split the rent. But this house we're in takes the cake. In addition to the water fiasco, the bathroom is old and gross, the backyard so overgrown with sticker burs that it's essentially unusable, and the so-touted "third bedroom" is an entryway that my baby sleeps in that does not have a vent or an outlet. We have to run an extension cord into his room to put a fan in so he can actually sleep through the night without waking in sweat. If we're in this house through the winter, I fear the consequences of putting a space heater in the room. I don't know what we'll do.

The truth is, we want out. But if we break the lease it will cost us money we don't really have and can go on our credit record, possibly keeping us from leasing or owning in the future. We- the three adults in the house- are talking constantly about what to do, and the conversation has been started with the landlord. But ultimately, the ball is in his court. Will he show mercy if we ask to leave amicably? Maybe. Maybe not.


Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about who has the power and who doesn't.


Because of the mental space the house has taken up in my brain the past week and a half, I missed the necessary window to book a doctor's appointment for Alyosha to get a new Ritalin prescription. I have one our doctor in Iowa sent with us with hope and a prayer, but pharmacies here won't fill it across state lines. So he's been on half meds for two days and runs out tomorrow. Life will get harder for all of us then, unless by some miracle I can get him seen today. I'm angry at myself for letting it sneak up on me, but when you're manually fetching pails of water to flush your children's feces with while they stand around to watch, you don't have time to stay on top of scheduling appointments.

I don't know what school they'll attend because I don't know where we'll be living on August 15th. I haven't registered them anywhere. It might not get done until August 14th. I might be that mom, the one that everyone wonders about. Why didn't she have her act together? Doesn't she care about her children? What is so hard about just filling out some school paperwork?

I'm not sure when the last time was that my oldest two ate a vegetable. Well, I guess it was the green beans at my mother-in-law's house this weekend, but other than that I have no recall. I feel guilty about their eating habits, but once again, when you're just trying to survive it's amazing how quickly things get overlooked.


Poverty is not always about money. Poverty is just as much about keeping your head above water and everything that drowns as you tread, tread, tread.

A note to end on: My family is going to be okay. We have affluent parents who can meet our basic needs in a crisis, we have higher education degrees that afford us opportunities, we have a lifetime of experience in white middle-class America in our pockets with which to work through options. It will be tempting for many of you to start brainstorming solutions for me, and although I deeply appreciate your care, I assure you we're spinning this over a million different ways in our brains every hour. I didn't write this post hoping you could solve my problems for me, or even for your sympathy or cries of injustice. I'm thankful for how you guys love me, but this post isn't really about me and I hope you see that. I have options. This post is to help us understand the plight of those who don't.

Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)