Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

17 Sep

It’s not that I can’t afford stuff, though not being able to buy toilet paper is a thing in my life from time to time.  It’s not being able to eat out, though having to limit my meal choices to eating at a soup kitchen or eating dry cereal at home is a thing in my life.

Mostly, it’s the way I get treated.

And as a person who is poor, but educated and articulate, perhaps I take it harder.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps I just put in words while others just feel in silence.

I’ve been honored to be invited to meetings where issues of homelessness and housing are discussed.  I’ve attended meetings where mental health and addiction are discussed.  Most people there are professionals.  They are paid to be there, while I am not.  They are well dressed, well spoken, and well educated, but often lack the life experiences of the people they are there to discuss.  So to avoid talking about “those people”, they will invite me, the well spoken token poor person.  They probably think they are doing awesome by letting me be involved, but then they treat me like a poor person.

I’ve been to these meetings, where I throw out an idea, and it’s immediately dismissed.  Then a moment later someone else will literally throw out the same idea, word for word, and everyone will think it’s a great idea and write it down.  That happens a lot.  Sometimes the other person is simply echoing my idea because they heard me, and they wanted to make sure others hear it too.  But that fact that I need someone else to say my idea for it to be taken seriously is insulting.

I’ve been asked to do things on behalf of organizations I represent, only to then have to have someone else who isn’t a poor person call and verify that what I said was valid, because a poor person can’t be taken seriously.

I don’t need to get paid to help people.  That’s not what this is about.  But in another lifetime, when I had a good paycheck, when I was a homeowner and a a car owner, I showed up at meetings and people wanted to hear what I had to said.  People came to me with their problems because they knew I could take care of it.  I was well respected.

I miss that.  I miss being heard.  I miss being taken seriously.  I miss the respect.

And the fact is, I’m the same person.  The only thing that has changed is my income level.  People judge my character and my skill level based on my bank account.  Liberal people.  Social workers.  Therapists.  City officials.  People working in the fields of recovery.  The people who spend all their time “helping” the poor, yet treating them like they are less than.

And I have a gift of words.  And I know what it’s like to be on the other side of this.

So how does someone who doesn’t have the words react to this?  I’ve heard from people in shelters who were sexually abused by the shelter staff, and heard professionals in that organization say “Well, you can’t take what those people say seriously.” when it was reported.  I’ve been in a shelter myself where I’ve been treated poorly by staff because they have the power to treat me poorly.  And then I’ve gone to meetings where those staff members talk about how great they are doing.

I’ve been in meetings with police officers where, as an invited member of the discussion, I’m treated with respect.  And I’ve been seen on the streets as a voiceless poor person by the police and been treated rudely for no good reason.  I’ve seen from my own experience of walking in both worlds that we get treated differently based on the context of how we are seen.

And this is as a white male in this society.  If I were black, or a woman, how much worse would it be?  I can pretend that I can imagine, but there’s no way I could ever really know.

Today, I live in low income subsidized housing.  I’m disabled, which is why I’m poor.  I finally got the paperwork in the mail that housing needed to renew my lease.  I went to the office that serves my apartment complex during their posted hours.  Nobody was there.  They left a note saying they aren’t there, as if I couldn’t tell from the fact that nobody was there.  I called to leave a voice message, and their voice mail greeting said that I should come to office during their office hours.  I was at the office during office hours.  Nobody is there.  So I went to the office that handles another apartment complex under the same umbrella.  Somebody was there who is supposed to be at the office that I was just at.  She said I’m not allowed to turn in the paperwork at any other office but the office that she’s supposed to be at but isn’t.  She said that the posted office hours aren’t really the office hours, and that we should just keep showing up until we find someone.  I said I left a voice message a few days ago saying I was coming with the paperwork during their office hours.  She said that they weren’t in the office because they were handling an emergency, which is not what the note said.  The note talked about previously scheduled inspections.  Also, she said she wasn’t in her office because she was doing these off-site inspections, but I was literally talking to her at the other office and she was trying to tell me she is somewhere else as I’m talking to her in person.  She finally said she’s only there on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursday from 1 – 3, but it was 1:30 on Tuesday.

The point to all that is that we get treated like this because we are poor, and therefore the view is that we don’t matter.  She even said she wasn’t in her office all last week, and they haven’t checked voice mail in over two weeks.  Wow!  That’s your tax dollars.  And yet, society blames us poor people for the bad economy.  It’s not us.  It’s them.

Last year, we got a notice that our apartments would be entered on a Tuesday, and that we were receiving the legal 48 hours notice.  The letter was dated for the Friday before.  But they didn’t give us the notices until the Monday before, in the late afternoon.  When I asked them about violating our tenant rights, they said they recognized that they were violating my rights and didn’t care.  They said “It’s not like you have anything else to do.”  Well, I did.  And after a quick conversation with someone I know at city hall, suddenly they were rescheduling that entry into our apartments.

And what sucks about that story is this.  If it hadn’t been that I am willing to speak up and advocate, if I didn’t have the connections and the words, then they would have just violated our rights, because they can.

People get tired of hearing me whining about being poor.  It’s not greed that motivates my complaints.  It’s the way we are treated.  “Oh, we can stomp all over you.  What are you going to do about it?”  Add to the poverty issues surrounding mental illness for instance, and valid self-advocacy goes unheard.

We should not be defined by our bank accounts, our titles, or our clothes.  We all matter.  We all deserve to be treated with respect.  Our ideas should not be weighed by our financial earnings.  Our contributions should not be filtered through green colored lenses.

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