On October 19, Healthy Peninsula held it 3rd annual Early Childhood conference on the topic of poverty at the Blue Hill Consolidated School. Although we were astounded with the level of participation from educators, health and service providers, and concerned citizens, we knew that our most difficult challenge would be to capture the stories or ‘voices’ of those living in poverty. One such participant was grateful for the interest in her experiences and agreed to share it to help others better understand the challenges of living with poverty every day. Here are excerpts from her story.
“I attended the Early Childhood conference on poverty in Blue Hill. Dr. Donna Beegle, a powerful speaker, helped me to see how poverty affects our country. The picture Donna created helped me see how it is for poor people living in areas foreign to me. What was familiar was her description of what this does to people psychologically.
Those feelings of hopelessness I could relate to. I could relate to the rat experiment [she] talked about; when the rat does not know where the shock is coming from, it curls up and dies. I was swept away with feelings of sadness afterwards because I felt it so well described a human’s feeling when there is just no answer. At the core of poverty lies fear, worry, and doubts of self-worth. Survival mechanisms kick in resulting in raw emotions of fear and feelings of inadequacy.
I led a privileged childhood, complete with summer camps, sailing, and skiing. I encountered situational poverty when an abusive marriage left me with two small children and court-ordered child support of $325 per month. I was eligible for MaineCare, WIC supplemental food vouchers, and food stamps. Going to the food bank first helps because you can see what kinds of food you can get there. Food stamps only last about one to two weeks.
The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened as technology has changed our society, communication, and business. Not all people are financially able to have satellite TV or a transformer box. Poor people lack access to valuable information, which is imperative for success. The internet and technology in the past decade has widened the gap for our children. Many poor children are disadvantaged in school because it is assumed that everyone has email, access to information on a computer, or transportation to a library. Not all parents can be communicated with via email. Nor are they going to be able to access web sites that are set up for parent-teacher-student interactions, causing them to be less involved (out of the loop) than other parents. Parents may feel that the school doesn’t understand [their situation].
Poverty can cause children and adults to develop food disorders. What is in the pantry? How will I combine what I have to make it taste good? Sometimes the greatest meals come from creativity, but having to improvise on an ongoing basis becomes difficult and depressing. Some may not eat enough of the right [kinds of food] because there won’t be enough, some may eat too much, some may hoard.
Poor teen-agers are at risk for hunger. Many low-income high schoolers go through the day hungry because private schools choose to not participate in the free lunch program. Buying the food that is available is expensive, so many go without.
My husband is disabled and I still have three children at home. My family’s annual income for the past seven years has been under $15,000. I had been working at many jobs, but right now I feel like I need to slow down. I am so worn down and my family needs me so much. I never seem to get ahead. I never seem to be able to meet my family’s needs. It is survival mode all the time and I am tired of it.”
Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner and a member of the HP Advisory Board and Early Childhood Work Group.