Saturday, July 24, 2010

Economic Dust Bowl: will we ever recover?

Denoris and Waleska help with the kids
Two of the families we've been advocating with this week have shelter for a while.  They were placed by DHCD and have thirty days to prove they're really "eligible" for shelter. So a call to Gerry McCafferty this week got the ball rolling; HAP helped out; and we got great advice from Mass Law Reform Institute and Western Mass. Legal Services.

Of course it was chaos in the office for three days.  Two young women from the summer jobs program at MCDI really helped out keeping the children amused-- the kids were often tired, hungry and stressed, so it was not an easy job.  Simone, our summer intern from McDuffy, helped out, also.

One problem in getting these families placed was that they both come from out of town.  Turns out that they both also have substantial ties to Springfield-- the dad in one family had been in Springfield for four months, looking for work; meanwhile his family was evicted from their apartment in Buffalo..

Now, as long as I've been doing this work, I've been aware of the urban legends about Massachusetts as a magnet for poor families: signs saying "Come to Massachusetts!" posted in NYC bus terminals and Puerto Rican welfare offices.  No one has ever seen the signs, of course, they've only heard of somebody who heard of somebody who has.

But there's a grain of truth in these stories, although Massachusetts is no more a target than any other state with large urban : poverty breaks the ties a poor family has to its community of origin.  I saw this first right here in Springfield.  Used to be that a family could be pretty close to destitute, renting not owning, and yet stay in the same neighborhood for years, building and maintaining ties with neighbors and local schools and businesses.  The loss of these networks comes at great cost to families that have little in the way of material resources.

We are seeing a migration  similar to the Great Dust Bowl, only now it is not soil that has blown away and farms  taken by the bank, but houses, apartments, jobs, stores, teachers, hospitals, social services-- you name it.  This morning's Boston Globe reports on potentially fatal cuts in day care programs for homeless families.  Mass Home Care says 2,400 low-income elderly will lose services that help them stay in their own home. Just as the widow's mite was so much a larger share of her wealth than what the rich man offered,  so these cuts and others like them are a huge share of what make survival possible.

I really don't know where all this is going-- the economy, the community, the individual lives of the poor.  I do know that  every time we have a "recovery," fewer of us get to recover.

Photo: Liz Bewsee

1 comment:

Donna said...

I find the phrase "recover" when the econo-bosses use it, to be pretty funny. Many segments of our population have been steadily losing ground at least since 1980. And those of us who have stayed even are working harder just to stay in the same place. I like to see a "recovery" in which we recover our power, and our share of the commonwealth from them what's been stealing for years. . .