What being poor looks like, and what it really IS
Let’s just get to the simple, user friendly breakdown explanation….
Being dirty, having dredlocked hair, going for who long periods of time without a shower, and carrying a backpack is not necessarily a sign of poverty. It might be a life choice. I have known many people living on trust funds who look this way. I call it “Virtual poverty”, and for some reason this lifestyle is very popular among those who are so from the poverty line, they can’t even SEE IT.
When you are homeless, your belongings are your burden, even if it’s a can of soup that will keep you from starving some night. You have to be on constant alert that the few things you have — even your shoes — might be stolen.
Carrying a bedroll and packpack from REI and a pair of bongos, wearing a poncho from Guatamala and a set of ear buds hooked to a music player while hitchhiking to Denver or California during spring break is NOT poverty.
When you are poor, you might have to decide between transportation, heat or cooling in your home, or food and living supplies. If you have a car, you might end up living in it, so you can afford to eat.
When you are poor, a bad cut, a broken bone, or a tooth that needs medical attention can land you out on the street, when there is not enough money left to pay rent, or a mortgage. For some, there is no option to be treated for medical issues. Obama care is simply an insurance policy that many people can’t afford.
When you’re poor, you cut your own hair, you get crafty at fixing things and you are no stranger to dumpster diving. A loaf of bread and a bag of oranges can be food enough for a couple of days, if it comes down to it. You avoid things that can cause serious illness if they are spoiled. Being vegan is no longer a life choice. Dumpsters get hot. Bacteria happens.
Being poor is a precarious juggling act — a house of cards that can fall down on you at any moment. Achieving “the American Dream” is dependent upon LUCK — lots of it — and the odds are always against you. Job loss, a cut in pay, a pregnancy, car breakdown, lack of available child care, loss of affordable housing, injury, illness, illness or illness of child, spouse or parent, robbery, unexpected hike in expenses; these are just a FEW things that can topple the house of cards and put someone on the street, and if they are there already, life just gets that much harder. You DO realize that it’s entirely possible to work one or even more than one minimum wage job and still not be able to afford housing, food, health care, and transportation…right?
When you’re poor, you learn ways to cut corners in order to survive, and keep the devil from the door for one more day. Eating ketchup sandwiches is just one way to do that. Even people living on the street generally try to keep themselves a bit cleaner than the children in that photo, but you can be assured that it is difficult. Try to bathe in a gas station sink sometime. Maybe after some dumpster diving. Let’s keep it real: it’s 28 degrees outside, and about 50 degrees in the bathroom.
But back to ketchup sandwiches….. Among the homeless, there is a concoction known as “The Breakfast of Champions”, which is hot water, with a handful of sugar packets and creamers, taken from any diner or fast food restaurant where they can be gotten easily. I was in a Burger King once, and I saw a homeless man sitting in a booth, having his “breakfast”. He smiled at me, but I could see a profound sadness in his pale blue eyes that I have only often in the eyes of veterans. He was beautiful. I smiled back at him, and after I went to the counter to buy him a meal, I went home and painted him from memory.