Welfare reform has brought us choice: Food or Health.
Choice I: One of our vendors lives in a motel with her family and receives cash assistance, medical coverage and food stamps. She developed cervical cancer and needed to be hospitalized. After surgery she was told to rest so that her surgical stitches could heal. Her caseworker had a different idea. The rule is that you must work or do 20 hours of volunteer work in exchange for the food stamps. They told her to go out and get the food stamp volunteer form filled out to get her food stamps.
Choice II: Who is the strongest to survive on the streets? Over the winter, we met up with a woman, “Brenda”, on the first day of being homeless. She had stayed at Project HEAT and was terrified of going back. It seems that she had lived in a duplex off of Broadway with thirteen other people who were mostly family members. Because of welfare reform another family member, who was a mother with a young child, needed to move into this household. It was decided by the matriarch of the family that “Brenda”, who was 20 years old at the time, was the most likely to be able to survive on the streets and was chosen to leave the crowded house. They realized that another person could not fit in this house and a tough decision had to be made.
Imagine “Brenda” having to rationalize this in her head. While her family loved her, they were forced to jettison her from the house to that a young child would have a place. What is this message? You have a better chance of finding a place if you can tug on people’s heartstrings with a child? Society is turning away from helping young mothers? We really have not advanced society much despite the extreme amount of wealth that we possess. Families are making the same decisions that they were forced to make in the darkest days of European history.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 37, Aug.-Sept.1999, Cleveland, Ohio