The Coastal Post - October, 1996

Welfare's Cycle Of Defeat


I have been unemployed since I was downsized out of my middle-management job in an occupation that is becoming obsolete. With 30 years of experience as a mechanical-electrical drafter, I had only the one marketable skill with which to support my upper middle class lifestyle in Sacramento. Since then, for over two years I have been over-qualified for nearly every job for which I have applied. Besides having an obsolete profession, I was living in a town that had just closed the Army Depot, McClellan Air Force Base and Mather Air Force Base.

After a year of searching for work, I used up all my resources and lost most of my possessions. I left Sacramento for a potential job in Marin County. I did not get the job, and I am now homeless. I have a motorhome as shelter, but I cannot afford to park it in any legally-designated spot overnight. Therefore, I have no electricity or running water, and must break the law to sleep, because the law states that one cannot inhabit a vehicle.

I am not by nature a law-breaker, but one must sleep. This is true of most homeless people sleeping in doorways and under benches and behind bushes. Large numbers of us are forced to break the law by a cold and uneducated bias against bad luck, and the use of power for the personal advantage of some.

If people cannot get a decent night's sleep, how are they supposed to be able to look for jobs or work well? Yet the homeless are expected to get up in the morning and appear refreshed, dress suitably, sound intelligent and perform capably.

Mobile home parks start at $400 a month, as do tiny studio apartments, and rooms in private residences. General Assistance, in this richest of all counties, allows a maximum of $307 a month for a single person, not enough for shelter, much less the other necessary expenses to live.

In San Rafael, there is the Ritter House—the Human Concerns Center—which provides telephone and mail service, showers (but only two a week), laundry once a week and supplemental food once a month. But there are insufficient shelters for sleeping, and the shelters that exist cannot accommodate the parking of motor homes or vans.

My monthly stipend from welfare stopped the very day I informed them I'd found a part-time job. I asked for the maximum $10 advance for gas. I would be without funds for two weeks before my first paycheck. The welfare rule-makers do not consider the fact that one must have clean clothes every day for a job, transportation money, and be able to obtain supplies until that first paycheck arrives. They simply push the button that immediately stops payments—if only the rest of the system worked that quickly!

Whereas the Marin police consider my motorhome a vehicle, making me a criminal for sleeping in it, welfare considers it a home, disallowing me access to other available housing. San Rafael is the county government center where any unemployed person must come for assistance. It also has Community Action Marin, which, among its services, offers a list of shared-housing opportunities. San Rafael's Civic Center Library offers a computer with Internet access, which is becoming increasingly necessary for a job search. Since it is the only town with these services, people have no choice but to stay or return there. The police, especially in San Rafael, should have no right to demand that the homeless leave town.

Without these organizations, the down and out likely would never be able to get back into the mainstream of working, tax-paying society. Even with the existence of volunteer services and the official help system, it is nearly impossible to improve one's situation, and those who do succeed to pull themselves up are punished. The police steal our sleep, our dignity, our hope. They and the welfare system smother our resolve.

What about those who would rather spend their welfare money on drugs? For some, drugs are the only means of escape from an unbearable life. Many of them would not need such an escape if they were able to obtain housing with their welfare money and have a chance at finding a means of earning a living.

To get out of the deep hole of poverty and homelessness and joblessness is a nearly impossible battle for even the strongest. And it doesn't end here. I have got my first job in two years, but it is only 15 hours a week and pays $37 more than I got on welfare. I am still homeless.

This is the cycle of defeat the welfare system and the police are encouraging with their blind denial of the results of their actions, their rules, and their prejudices against the poor.