It’s Not Easy to Get Back Up After You’ve Fallen

She found a four-foot-tall piece of cardboard at a grocery store and wrote on it:

I’D RATHER BE WORKING
HIRE ME IF YOU HAVE A JOB

Then she stood alongside the road and held up the sign. The day was so windy it was hard to hold on to. “I was like, ‘Please hire me,’ and everybody’s flying by, trying to ignore you, but this one guy drives up, looks at my résumé, looks at me and goes, ‘Very effective. I’ll take one of those.’ I said, ‘Thank you, I really appreciate that,’ but I never heard from him. And then a homeless guy came up to me and goes, ‘Wow. That ain’t gonna work.’ I didn’t want to talk to him about it. I just wanted to stick my sign out there – I didn’t have any more cardboard. And about halfway into it, I just started crying and I couldn’t stop. I was so embarrassed. It was incredibly humiliating. You know how a lot of women hold their hand over their mouth when they cry? I started doing that, and that’s when I raked in the money. I was sort of scared because there were so many cars that I was boxed in, and I was holding this gigantic sign and I was saying, ‘I’d rather work, I’d rather you take my résumé, please help,’ and I’m crying and the dollars just started coming out of the windows.” But finally she cried herself out, and people stopped giving. She made $12 in three hours, all of it drawn by tears.

“And then I went out the next day and didn’t get squat,” she says. “I was trying to figure out, ‘Should I start crying on purpose?’ But how do you cry on purpose?”

Rolling Stone has a very good piece profiling some middle class people who went from having stable jobs before the recession, to losing their homes and sleeping in their cars, and having to psychologically adjust to becoming homeless after the economy tanked. Janis Adkins, the 56-year-old woman in the blurb above, slept in her van, lived off her savings, and worked as many odd jobs she could find until she had to resort to pan-handling. When Adkins applied for emergency food stamps, she was denied because she had enough money to buy gas for her car and to pay her phone bill.

“The money’s for my phone, it’s for gas, it’s for my bills,” Adkins said.

“Why are you in a crisis,” the woman asked, “when you have a phone bill?”

“I need the phone so I can get a job. You can’t look for a job without a phone.”

“Why do you have bills?” the woman asked. “I thought you didn’t have a place to live.”

“I live in my van,” Adkins said. “I have insurance.”

“You have a 2007 van,” the woman said. “I think you need to sell that.”

“Please, I need a break,” Adkins said. “I need some help. I need to take a shower.”

“Why didn’t you have a shower?”

“I live in a van.”

The woman told Adkins to come back when she really needed help.

It really demonstrates how difficult it is to land back on your feet when you’ve lost nearly everything you have, but are still trying to hold on to the few things you do still have and need—a car to get you to a job interview, a phone that will allow potential employers to get back to you—to become stable again. It’s a heartbreaking story, and makes me grateful to know that if I ever lose everything, I’m lucky enough to have options that will keep me off the street.

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22 Comments / Post A Comment

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

All I can do is look at this and think “fuck you” to the woman who decided to deny Janis Adkins food stamps. I’m so tired of hearing about this idea that you should sell everything you own before you are really poor. I bought a new MacBook Pro yesterday (exciting! redeemed a bunch of savings bonds to pay for it, putting the rest in my savings account) and if I were to lose my job tomorrow, I would not try to return the laptop. I would get back $1700 for returning the laptop. Great, that covers a month and a bit. Now- how am I going to job hunt without the laptop?

@RachelG8489 I agree with your point, but that’s a pretty dumb example to use. If you need huge computing power for your job, sure. If not, I’d hope you’d consider returning it for a $300 netbook.

@RachelG8489 Agreed on denying Janis Adkins food stamps. That’s crazy and maybe there’s such a thing as being too honest? Like if all your money is earmarked for expenses, maybe consider it spent already.

But your MacBook Pro? How about a cheaper laptop? A $300 used laptop? Heck my first job was getting funding for a public library system to open a computer lab to let homeless people learn computer skills and put together resumes and access email. So go to a library and reserve a PC. Lots of options that are cheaper or free compared to a MBP.

RachelG8489 (#1,297)

@RachelG8489 Okay, yes, I own a pricey computer. I’ve been a Mac user my entire life and am more comfortable with that system than a PC (though I use a PC at work). A less expensive computer now in exchange for probably less than a month’s living expenses? When I’ll then be stuck with that computer for years, since I use a laptop for 5+ years? Let’s be realistic here. We’re talking about less than a month’s living expenses. It is a lot of money- but it would not be enough to keep me going in unemployment for that long.

And re: library stuff- unreliable hours, limited access, etc? My local public libraries are cutting hours all the time, and you can’t reserve a computer for more than an hour at a time.

I should add that I look at all these things knowing that I could go back to working in test prep part-time, which I’ve done before, so I would not be 100% unemployed for long.

@RachelG8489 Chop up your furniture for firewood! Pawn your tools! Eat your seed corn!

@RachelG8489 It’s less than a month’s expenses in the way you are living CURRENTLY. It’s far more than a month if you knew you would be unemployed indeterminately and had to cut costs drastically. I am more comfortable with a mac than pc, so I bought one that’s a few years old for $400, because there is no way I could afford a pro-I’m always surprised that so many people consider it a necessit; I hear this argument a lot. $1700 is a lot of money; I imagine even more so to someone that has no money coming in.

It almost makes you think we should have some kind of… net? Like for society? We could call it a “social safety net” perhaps?

Crazy idea, it could never work.

@stuffisthings (Speaking of which, I am genuinely curious how many of these people are long-time Republican voters. Or still vote Republican, even.)

EDIT: I feel a little bad for writing that, but not as bad as if I were one of the “Why do you have bills? Why don’t you sell your computer?” people.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings Don’t feel bad for writing that. I don’t think the Republicans will be surprised to be associated with the dismantling of our small social safety net or the blocking of establishing new ways to help the needy (or, as they call them in their native tongue, “the lazy). In fact, they’ll probably be proud.

Excuse me while I go weep for humanity.

@MuffyStJohn Aaaaaaaaaah I accidentally just read some of the comments. What is WRONG with people? And this is Rolling Stone!

I mean seriously, I just can’t comprehend the mind of a person who skips over the parts about homelessness and our meager social safety net utterly degrading people and offering no help in returning them to productivity, but then they keep a careful and vindictive tally of every possible clue for why the person is not deserving of their sympathy. Eating a hot meal? VIOLATION. Failure to save enough to last through a (4 year long and counting) recession? VIOLATION.

It’s like this country somehow skipped an entire era in the moral development of humanity.

@stuffisthings “With the exception of unemployment benefits I have never taken a dime in government handouts. And I don’t intend to.”

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings NEVER READ THE COMMENTS. Oh dear god, quick, look at pictures of kittens! Or Mother Teresa! Or Mother Teresa petting kittens!

But yes, sadly, our sense of morality seems completely tied up in women’s uteruses and denying equal rights to homosexuals. Everything else – starvation, homelessness, crippling poverty – can be blamed on the failings of individuals who deserve their suffering. I mean, they should have just chosen to be morally bankrupt stock traders! Those are the people our society rewards! Because they work so goddamn hard.

nf (#949)

@stuffisthings People really want to believe that something like this couldn’t happen to them, and if it’s happening to someone else that must be due to some stupid mistake that they wouldn’t make.

@nf Exactly. I think that’s why this article, and the response to it, has been stuck in my head all day. It was SPECIFICALLY WRITTEN to show middle class people that they, too, could fall, and a lot of them are responding “No, because of [X tiny choice that one of the subjects made].”

I think it’s mentioned in this article — if it’s not, it should be — that there are three times more unemployed people than open job opportunities in this country. So even if every single unemployed person made a perfect effort to place themselves in a job, any job, and disregarding the obvious discrimination towards e.g. the homeless or “over qualified,” we’re still left with 8,382,000 unemployed people (out of the 12,700,00 currently unemployed) who couldn’t even POSSIBLY have jobs in the current economy.

I’d hate to be the kind of person who felt that each of those nearly eight and a half million people had all done something morally wrong and therefore deserve to be destitute.

@MuffyStJohn Also, I feel obliged to say that I didn’t mean to make this a Republicans/Democrats thing. What worries me is that a lot of people who are ostensibly Democrats or socially progressive still have this weirdly judgmental attitude towards the poor.

A thought I had earlier on this subject: In America, the rich are forgiven almost any transgression, while the poor are expected to be perfect.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@stuffisthings I see your point. For individual Democrats and Republicans alike: people are assholes, especially toward the poor. I think it’s tied up with this myth of American ingenuity, invention, and upward mobility – the myth that tells us we’re successful because we worked so hard, not because of inherent privilege or luck. Both sides of the aisle buy into this bullshit, and it makes it really easy to look a poor person in the eye (or on the Rolling Stone website) and say “that person is poor because s/he made shitty choices, whereas they could have worked hard like me and been fine.” The myth is deeply pervasive to our culture and it is at direct odds with actually working to lift up the downtrodden or build a net that keeps people from falling this far in the first place. For their part, Democrats seem to be a little less likely to buy that myth hook, line, and sinker, but Republicans are generally proud of just how hard they’re willing to fight to keep from actually having to help anyone.

@MuffyStJohn I don’t know…it’s not really an either/or thing though: some people DID make shitty choices. The difference in my opinion is that it is important to still help those that made shitty choices, but at the same time help them realize that there are better choices to be made. Our current system does none of that. This is why, as a teacher, I was frustrated when the same kids with free lunch had 3 pairs of $100+ shoes. It’s a stereotype, but it happens ALL THE TIME. Their families qualified for assistance, which I think is good, but there was no ‘life choice assistance’. I know I’m explaining this poorly, but a large portion of privilege comes from knowing how to spend/save your money…

@stuffisthings Yes. It’s amazing how in America we forgive the rich almost any moral transgression, without questioning whether they “deserve” what they have, while the poor are expected to be moral paragons who always make perfect choices.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Jake Reinhardt Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but your comment sounds like a setup for having government assistance recipients justify all of their other purchases to their government and/or community to conform to a narrow view of what is appropriate for an aid recipient to purchase. It’s bad enough that these families are silently being judged by strangers who don’t know their circumstances (like their teachers). They don’t need your “help” to keep from making what you deem “shitty choices” (like, uh, putting shoes on their kids’ feet). They need food. They qualify for assistance means they qualify for assistance. End of story.

And when I say privilege, I mean the privilege a lot of us get from being born – being white, having penises, growing up in neighborhoods with good schools. You don’t earn privilege, and it doesn’t come from knowing how to spend your money; quite the opposite, privilege often means you just have more money to spend to begin with.

Not_all_youts (#1,646)

RachelG8489: Are you shitting me? You buy a $2,000+ computer to look for a job? Couldn’t the library PC do it just fine? Couldn’t a $200 asus off craigslist work just fine?

Poor decision making begets more poor decisions, which ultimately could lead to living off someone else’ (mine) dime. I bet you’re college educated too, with some super-relevant and practical degree like sociology or afro-american womens studies?

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