Public Housing Stigma

A to Z Challenge

   I feel like I have an obligation to repeatedly explain my situation so people know the stigma doesn’t apply to me even though I’m sure it also doesn’t apply to most of my neighbors.  I also know talking about it is sacrificing a piece of myself to the wolves, potentially; not many read my blog luckily (haha).

   It’s difficult to be in my position and support Bernie Sanders.  I feel like I have to hide so people don’t think his supporters all rely on government assistance and that’s why they want him in the WH.  What’s odd about this is no one votes in my neighborhood (granted, my state has a low voter turnout) but the few that do vote support Trump or Cruz, hate Hillary, do not like Obama, and really have no idea who or what Sanders is and represents.  It’s ironic, really.

   My husband works. Because of this we don’t qualify for TANF, we pay more than 2/3 of our food, our own utilities, and a small chunk of rent.  Right now, our rent is only based off my monthly disability (we’re in an income interim period) which is $200-$400 below the national average.   This is because before I became disabled I only worked minimum wage jobs.  You could say “Well, you should have gone to school,” or, “You should have applied at better paying jobs.” If you say either of these, I will suggest you are slightly disconnected from reality.

    My loyalty to people I care about extended into my work ethics. I worked hard, easily dedicated to projects, and  a relatively fast learner.  While my actual jobs list is short (about 6) I’ve only quit one job irresponsibly and I’ve never been fired (laid off once).  I’ve applied to every type of job imaginable and despite my looks, ability to talk like a educated homosapien, and  energetic physical abilities, I’ve only managed to get minimum wage jobs.  I’ve worked my way up at every job I’ve ever had.  My last job wanted to send me for training for department supervisor and encouraged me to start thinking of assistant store management positions. I’ve had similar offers at other jobs but something always got in the way.  At this job it was the headaches the job was causing.  After 4 years they turned into migraines.  So I quit, thinking it would get better.

   I then went to school because we wanted and needed better. I was pregnant by the end of the first “year.”  Middle of first semester, second year, I was in a hospital bed, paralyzed on one side of my body.  I didn’t expect it– no one did.  Lucky for us, we were poor enough to have qualified for Medicaid prenatal care which covered everything related to my stroke as well (inpatient and outpatient rehab, a 13 hour brain surgery, etc).  After 3 weeks into my first stint in inpatient rehab, the hospital applied for disability for me.  I refused at first, thinking I could get better in a matter of time.  When I came out of surgery weaker than I went in, however, I was glad the hospital pushed me to apply because I was not getting better any time soon.

   We applied for housing while pregnant and still in a wheelchair.  We got very lucky.  My disability, our situation, pushed us to the top of the list and into an apartment within 6 months of applying.

   Within the first week here, my neighbor got stabbed in the butt (it was as funny as it sounds but also, not really).  Two years ago, just before Christmas, a 10 year-old three buildings over answered a knock at the door.  When his grandma came home from the corner store an hour later, she found him dead in the doorway with one bullet wound to the forehead.  They never found the killer.  This is what we ignore as residents in housing because we have no choice.

  People come into my house and I feel like I have to explain where everything came from. The computer desk was mom’s, she gave it to us when she left the state a couple years before my stroke.  The couch was donated by MIL’s church.  MIL’s friend donated the washer and dryer, Skas’s bed, and a bunch of towels (random, right?).  Our T.V and stand came from before as well as the computer, laptops, PS3, Wii, and various other items we felt no guilt buying with our own money but won’t replace when they crash.

    I feel like people forget why we have public housing in the first place.  I shouldn’t have to live  with little furniture because I’m supposed to look poor.  My kids should be allowed decent shoes [from Payless, hello] to wear to school and a secondary pair [from Walmart] to muck around outside without worry.

   We’ve been here 4 years and I’m ready to leave. I look around and I see a home, not a public housing unit.  I shouldn’t feel guilty; I shouldn’t feel as though I’m being judged when it’s no one’s business. MIL and FIL came over a couple weeks ago and I saw their eyes taking inventory.  MIL went immediately to this “new” three tiered shelving unit that almost looks like some sort of deco art that holds our new printer in the living room.  I jumped on it before she could open her mouth:

Great shelf, right?  Kasper saw it on the side of the road with a “free” sign taped to it.

   The relief on her face stung me.

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   Income tax helps us upgrade.  Last year we used it to replace our table with the broken leg and get enough chairs to seat all four of us; we now eat as a family in one spot.  We also replaced the couch donated to us because a spring busted and ripped open the cushion.  We patched it and even sewed on a new cover but eventually it turned into a couch frame with a foam cushion wrapped in a cheap blanket sealed with duct tape.  Can we get any more ghetto? We now have a couch that doesn’t hurt us.  This year we upgraded JJ’s room from baby to big boy and donated his baby stuff. We upgraded our living room as well with new desk and such.

  I feel the need to explain because being in housing doesn’t mean we can’t prepare to live outside of housing.  I think this is where people fail to consider those in this position.  I don’t live easy because I receive assistance.  We still struggle but this assistance makes it bearable.

   I think of housing as an interim residence that helps people better prepare for the burden of being an adult after essentially failing the first time around, like I have done.  When we are in a better place financially (still paying off stroke debt) we don’t want to regret not taking advantage of the opportunity government assistance provides.  We don’t have a lot of wiggle room but we know that once we’re off assistance we’ll have even less. So why is it bad to prepare for that?  What would be the point of moving only to find out we have no money to fix our broken couch, table, or desk?  Or to find out the price of big boy beds have gone up $100 more than we can afford, without a mattress?  It is not foolish, irresponsible or a waste of taxpayers money to buy a couch, a rug for the living room, or a new dresser to replace the nursery style one.  It is irresponsible to sell off everything we own to satisfy everyone else’s idea of what someone on assistance should like, however.  It’s also degrading to my children, character and dignity.  I’m a human and I’ve worked from 14 to 27 with intentions to work until retirement, paying all of my taxes as I grew older.  I didn’t expect to become disabled, especially not both visibly and  with residual invisible disabilities.

   It is unfair that I live with this feeling that I am always being judged and that I have to question whether I can justify each purchase I make to strangers and people like my in-laws.  It is not wrong of me to complain about it either.

   It is wrong that the roof over my kids heads and the food in their bellies is constantly under threat of being taken away by people that lack empathy, understanding, compassion, and insight.  It is unfair that I am always trying to prove I do not fit a stigma that shouldn’t exist in the first place.  Some of my neighbors are totally abusing the system and being the good white girl I am, I have reported them and yet I am always given the same crap:  nothing can be done without a case.  I don’t know what case they’re talking about, why there’s a way to report anything without said case, or why even bother if no one will do their jobs.  So yeah, I gave up and I noticed maintenence treats us better…no idea if the two are connected.

So there’s my rant

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2 thoughts on “Public Housing Stigma

  1. People are so quick to judge. Even in this post, it seems you are explaining your explanations. Like when you explained that the shelving unit you got for free looks like something you got for free and not like a beautiful, ornate antique that perhaps you might like to have. Living is hard, especially with the judgement of others. I can’t even imagine what you have to deal with on a daily basis. Hoping things get better for you and your husband in the future. :-/

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment. I do feel as though I explain my explanations. And the shelving unit looks to me like maybe patio furniture of some kind; like maybe it’s meant for holding potted plants on a porch but it doesn’t look that bad with a printer on it either lol. I think everyone experiences judgment so living is hard because of that. It’s the stigma that surrounds certain living and lifestyles that hurts the most, because no one has to be there to actually judge you. It’s just in the air. I imagine even rich people experience this, they can just afford to blow those people off haha.

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