Of course, it only took approximately nine hours of sitting in the Department of Public and Social Services where I received a parking ticket, a pat-down to enter, and was sneezed on not once, but twice. From the looks of the place, I got off easy.
Although I had initially applied for food stamp benefits back when my service year started, I was denied because I missed my appointment with my caseworker because I was in Portland at my VISTA Pre-Service Orientation. I was annoyed at the time, but did little to get the decision reversed. It's not that I never felt a financial strain when it came to feeding myself; every month, it came down to scrounging coins from my piggy banks. But there is a certain amount of pride that must be sacrificed for a person to ask for aid and I figured that I wasn't approved and so I should just figure it out.
You know, to politicians, pundits, average joes--everyone--welfare is such a controversial topic. On the news, people throw around terms like "entitlement" and the principle that if people come to rely on something, they'll never have an impetus to work for it themselves. I'm ashamed to admit I used to peripherally agree. Experiencing it from the other side, the side of need, I am ashamed.
That sacrifice I spoke of? It's not just pride that must be sacrificed; the world could do with a little less of that anyway. There's a certain amount of dignity a person must sacrifice to admit to themselves and the world that no, they are not able to provide fully for themselves or their families. It made me feel a bit of a failure. Like I was truly becoming "poor." In reality, there's no difference between today and yesterday, food stamps or not, with the exception that I can feed myself and not worry so much about bills and that I now have enough breathing room to really enjoy myself without feeling like I'll need to miss a meal next week to account for my good time. I might actually be able to afford to go see a movie.
Although there may be people who play the system, most are people just struggling to make it. No one wants to spend time at DPSS. No one wants to feel like they are being treated like a criminal, just so they can eat. The inherent suspicions of government officials, while understandable, are mostly just offensive. I mean, hello? I'm sacrificing my dignity on a governmental altar, here.
There are a lot of racial and class issues implicated in my argument here, but I want to purposely avoid those. I'm just another "white" girl. But that doesn't mean that my perspective and experience isn't valid. There's nothing quite like living the issue, and in that, I am a sister, I join the family of poverty--one that is so often silent, so often lonely, too often alienating.