Tuesday, October 21, 2008

"Advice for the New Paupers"

In a previous post, I wondered how people who find themselves newly poor will learn how to navigate the social services that might help them. Asking one of my CVM colleagues this question, I was told "things tend to crumble, not collapse, for those entering poverty," which seems pretty close to the mark. It's not often the case that someone suddenly finds themselves broke, homeless and on the streets; it's more likely that they live just above the line but dip beneath it for periods of time as they encounter more problems. Assuming people in this position can get specific help (with a job, housing, etc.), it may be that they can avoid the kind of poverty that leads to homelessness.

Jon Dolan recently published an excellent article on Alternet called "5 Pieces of Advice for the New Paupers" describing his experiences living in poverty. The article doesn't go into a lot of detail about what caused this descent (in his case, a three-month process), but instead focuses on what he learned once he got there. It's a fascinating and scary article, covering everything from the primacy of warmth and why it's necessary to be somewhat pushy at food banks, to the way your sense of shame fades once you've experienced cold and hunger and how you eventually won't mind the smells anymore because everyone smells.

Dolan describes the bitterness you'll feel living like this, and how you have to find a way to shut that off. After describing a job interview that didn't go too well, he says
After months of being a bum, I was the wrong volume, the wrong temperature....You'll find that if you want to get back into that quiet, odor-free, polite world, you're going to have to decompress for a few months. What happened to us is that we fled, found a basement apartment on borrowed money, and stayed there, keeping the heat on high for months. Then we were ready to try again for a job.
This article, and the many follow-up comments, are worth reading. Let's hope those slipping into poverty find their right volume, their right temperature.


Aleithia Artemis said...

You write, "In a previous post, I wondered how people who find themselves newly poor will learn how to navigate the social services that might help them."

Navigation is not the problem.

The social services themselves are.

Case in point: This is the Houston Community Voicemail blog. I have been assigned the Houston Community Voicemail number 832-495-4763.

It has been down for the past week.

I'm not just talking about the 2 days everyone has experienced.

No. The past week.

It's STILL down.

This is just one small tip of a huge iceberg, about social services holding forth the claim to offer various things - in this case voicemail - which they make sure are ineffective.

This is a gross violation fo the Public Trust.

Aleithia Artemis

Community Voice Mail said...

Hi Aleithia. Thanks for your comment, and as someone who works at the Community Voice Mail National office (the people responsible for the voice mail technology you and other CVM clients use), please accept my apologies. We have been experiencing problems in the past week that have caused our voice mail system to be down all over the country, and we're working around the clock to bring the service back up.

CVM provides this service to more than 40,000 people a year, in 46 mostly large U.S. cities. We've been doing this for over 15 years, and it's actually rare that we experience this kind of problem. Definitely no consolation to you and others who have been missing calls this week, but this service outage is the exception and not the rule.

Again, we're working to bring the service back up as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience, and again, thanks for posting your comment.

(Also, you've posted on the blog of the Community Voice Mail National Office. The Houston CVM blog can be found at http://houstoncommunityvoicemail.blogspot.com/).