Sunday, July 29, 2007

NFB: Eye-opening poverty

Last night I was up late watching MTV's True Life: I'm Dead Broke which featured three young adults trying to make ends meet in terrible conditions. There was a girl named Alexa living in Missouri who basically dropped out of high school to leave home because she didn't want to burden her mother, who already worked 3 jobs as it was. There was a 22 year-old woman named Sandra living in Oakland, California who was surviving by "hustling" doing people's hair (braiding). Then there was DeMarlon, a 21 year-old young man who lived with his parents and siblings in beyond horrible conditions. The other two I felt sorry for at points, but it was DeMarlon's story that really angered and depressed me.

DeMarlon and his family live in a rural area (Pembroke, Illinois) in this house that I can't even begin to describe to you. It's got no running water (they have to pump their own water), there is raw sewage running out of the side of the house, it's a small 2 bedroom house that can barely fit his two parents and five siblings, and on top of that, there is a cockroach problem they show on the show. The rent is $280/month but DeMarlon and his father stopped paying it because apparently they were trying to put it towards the repairs needed on the house (that is what I understood, anyhow). They are behind $2,800 and only have $100, both DeMarlon and his father go around town looking for odd jobs as his father has a hard time finding steady work. They are served with an eviction notice and DeMarlon starts trying to figure out what to do to help the family avoid being on the streets. He is on probation for having broken into a car to steal stuff (I assume to help his family survive) but he spends his time trying to get ready for a literacy test for the Army, which he plans on enlisting in to help make a better life for his family, as well as attending meetings with his P.O. (Parole Officer), which is 18 miles away from his house. The cameras follow DeMarlon as he starts walking for his 11am appointment at 8am. Luckily, he was able to catch a ride about 3-5 miles into his 18-mile walk.

In the end, the family is evicted but they find another place to live in. It's a run down singlewide trailer but it has running water. DeMarlon states it's not what he would want but he's grateful they have a roof over their heads. In the end, we find out that DeMarlon cannot take the literacy test afterall, because he is on probation. He's got 2 years til he can do so. That ending was so incredibly depressing to me- to knock out someone's dream of trying to make their family's situation better for them just made no sense to me. The update on DeMarlon and his family after this episode was that his father and himself still hadn't found steady work.

So, last night, being curious, I googled DeMarlon and found this- a Hope for Hopkins fund for DeMarlon Martin. This agency is trying to help assist DeMarlon and there was an update posted on the website stating that despite the airing of the program, his situation has gotten worse. He is still in Pembroke, and became a father. He is living with his girlfriend, and both of them are trying to find steady work so they can give their daughter a better life. I was saddened to read this but also hopeful that an organization is trying to help this family out.

It's so easy to judge the situation and say- but the family said they had a satellite dish that cost them $100, the family had a cell phone, the family ate steaks. First off- does living in poverty mean a person has to suffer and not have something they can enjoy in life- be a satellite dish or steaks? Secondly- it didn't look like they even had a landline, and perhaps that cell phone was one of those "pay-as-you-go" type of phones. Third, the steaks- well how do we know the production crew of MTV didn't pay for those? We don't know. We know nothing and yes, while they allowed their lives to be put on air, it's certainly none of our business either. Are we so petty we begrudge a few things in life that can help ease a struggling family's stress levels? Seriously? I'm all for personal responsiblity too- but someone like DeMarlon didn't get negative about the situation, he accepted what was going on and just tried his best to help his family out. When you live in a rural place it's hard to find work when you're cut off from places that may offer more work, especially when you do not have a vehicle (like in DeMarlon's family's case). There was no public transportation as well, and according to a website I found, the per capita income of people in Pembroke, Illinois is $9,642/year versus the U.S.'s average of $21,587. Income for specific ethnic groups was disparaging as well- with Caucasians earning $16,242/year versus African Americans earning $9,390/year. Also, on another website (Family-to-Family), I found out that Pembroke has no police station, no public transportation (as we previously had known) and many houses without running water.

I think it's amazing that we live in this country and whenever we see third-world countries we gasp and say how lucky we are to not live in a situation like that. But it's in our own backyard- Pembroke, Illinois. I'm sure there are many other towns in America who have similar problems. The fact that people living in America don't have running water and have sewage flowing freely from their house?? That is horrific. It's illegal for anyone to live in a situation like that, but the problem is that the people who live in these situations most likely do not know that it's illegal therefore they don't do anything. All I can say is watching this really opened my eyes up. And we've lived in poverty before- we've lived in a place where our roof was leaking and falling apart (but solved by putting a tarp on top of it) in lieu of expensive rent. It had mice problems and many other problems as well, but we dealt with it. However, at least we had running water and working sewage. I just can't even imagine that.



At 7:22 PM, Anonymous Ned Hughes said...

I think my problem with this is, it's just one person. There are still so many out there who need the help and are in similar or worse situations. What about them?

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

That was my point- anyone could be living without running water or sewage running from their house- I wasn't making the point of just one person. If you read my last paragraph you would see that I mentioned I am sure there are many other towns in America that go through this.

The point is- in the land of such opportunity, there are still places with horrific conditions where people have to pump their own water or worry about stepping in sewage outside (or even INSIDE) their own homes. That's just unacceptable and disgusting to me.

At 6:28 PM, Blogger Sue said...

Interesting post, Jennifer.

I remember an old show of Oprah's where she showed a similar type of situation...various Americans living without basic necessities. I like to fool myself and think we're so horrified, because it doesn't happen that much in this country, but, of course, that's not true. And however much it happens, it's inexcusable. That's what makes spending so much money on misguided policies all the more outrageous...when they are so many needs right here.

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

It's very outrageous- I'll be honest, I didn't think that anyone here in the states who had a place to live had to pump their own water and deal with a double whammy of raw sewage. I mean, I knew it was possible, but it's one of those things you think couldn't possibly happen. Well it does.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I came by your blog because I love the title!

This is a very touching story. It reminds me of another story I heard about last year that I think brings some hope.

I travel every summer through the rural areas between MD and VA. I seem some heart-crushing poverty around there. This one TV show I was watching once (might have been 60 minutes) profiled a community in this area. They lived in miserable, squalid conditions. Finally, one woman who made $5k a year as a crab picker (seasonal work at best) decided to do something about it. She began investigating the government resources available to her. She did her research and banged on doors and didn't take no for an answer.

As a result, she was able to get herself and her entire community in on a government program that provided new housing for everyone. The transforomation of hte area was nothing short of miraculous.

Sometimes it is possible to make a difference. I just wish it were possible more often!

At 3:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do people say things like "it is just one person?" The story and feelings change a greatly if that one person was -- YOU. Instead of focusing on this being one person's story, why not try to help that person. You can't fix everyone's problems and situations all at once but you have to start somewhere, right?


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