The daily concern of having a place to sleep.
Continuing on the path of exploring poverty, this book dived into the micro level by following the lives of a few families in Milwaukee and their struggle to find housing. Desmond actually went to live in the trailer park in which most of these families made a stop in, and he went further after they left by living with them and assimilating into their day to day. I think it was an amazing effort in truly knowing what it was like to live among the poor. This book did a great job of digging deep into even the conversational aspects of these families as well as providing context into the bigger picture of what they are facing.
One thing that stood out to me in this book is the fact that its not so black and white. Landlords could be, but aren’t always the greedy rent-seeking mogul. We saw a side of them struggling to make a living from collecting rent, attending eviction courts, and having to draw the line of whether to help tenants and give them a pass or put the foot down. Tenants aren’t always the perfect citizen either, as they constantly make poor decisions that jeopardize getting out of their situation.
I think one of the biggest things that people don’t realize about the poor is the emotional turmoil and how much mental strength is required. Throughout much of the book, we see these families try to put themselves in a position of stability, but time and time again, go back into turmoil. The more this happens, the more it gets harder to hope and to feel like they can do something about the situation. In the book, a woman named Arleen has been through the process of applying to hundreds of apartments, staying for a while, then getting evicted for one reason or another so often that I wonder how she can be hopeful. I really enjoyed this chapter in which one woman splurged on a lobster meal that took a huge chunk of her food stamps and left her with a tiny budget for food for the rest of the month. How does this make any sense to us? The thing is, this woman doesnt believe she can get out of her situation. The little money she saves if she does try her hardest gets spent because expenses always come up. Her solution is to enjoy herself for those one or two meals because saving won’t make a difference. Can we fault her though?
The book barely scratched the surface of how the lives of the children are affected. In Arleen’s case, her boys switched schools multiple times in a year and are forced to skip class to help look for housing—schooling can’t be a priority. Simply surviving and a sense of stability takes precedent over human capital, community, and culture.
Reflecting on this book, I realized how close these lives could have been my reality. I never put too much thought when my mom would say that we might have to move to a cheaper place if our landlord raised rent, because she said this so many times and we never did. We were always able to scrape because of my grandma’s social security money and a lot of support from family. I expected to not have to worry about our financials and if we will have a place to sleep at night. As seen in the book, most actually don’t get support from their family. I can’t imagine how life would be different if I was in the same situation some of these children were in.
This book is a must-read to not only learn about the poor, but understand the privileges they cannot afford. Unfortunately, the cycle continues with their children if the conditions for success and opportunities are nonexistent.