November 17, 2018

Just Try to Live on $387 Per Month

Recently I read an article called, ““>Ritter Center, which has been providing services for low income people in Marin County for over 35 years. According to its website, the services it provides include a food pantry which feeds over 2,200 households, low cost health care, behavioral counseling, and free clothing.

Many of the online comments on the article were quite heartless, saying things like, “I think it's great that places like Ritter exist but I don't care where they put it, just get it out of Marin!” and “Get tough on the lazies and crazies or continue to suffer as it will only get worse.”

One comment from “Len” that particularly stuck in my craw said, “General Assistance for an individual is $387/mo and if you have no housing costs, there's plenty left over for food, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs.” I would like to say to this person, “Ok. You try to live on $387 per month, and see how easy it is.”

First of all, it is obscene to suggest that $387 per month would be enough, because the person receiving it is homeless, and therefore doesn’t have to pay rent. Yes, there may be a few people who aren’t interested in housing, but the vast majority of people, including those who are currently homeless, would love to have a safe, dry place to live. It is unacceptable to say a person has plenty of money with this kind of income.

But putting that aside, I’d like to see Len live on that amount. First, Len will have to remember that, for this experiment, he will need to live as if he does not have a home to go to. This means, no using the kitchen. As a homeless person, he would have no stove to cook on, no pots and pans, no knives or other food preparation tools, no refrigerator in which to put his leftovers for the next day.

Next, he has a choice. Either he can pretend he is one of the lucky homeless people who has a car, in which he can stash extra clothing and other items, but for which he will need to take about $100 per month out of his $387 stipend to pay for car insurance. Or, he can pretend he has no car and spend the $100 per month on other things, in which case he needs to live the whole month with no sleeping bag, change of clothes, toothbrush or toothpaste, etc.

During this month, Len would also not be able to use his home’s laundry room. He would have to wash his clothes at a local laundromat, and figure out how to do that if he has no change of clothes to sit in while the washer and dryer run their cycles. If he’s pretending to have a car, he will have to pay for gas out of his $387 per month, for every place he goes. If not, he will have to take and pay for public transportation.

Len should keep in mind that every day he will need either gas or bus money to get to and from work, to obtain food and beverages, and to find a place to sleep during the night. Periodically, he will need to purchase laundry detergent and to pay for the use of the laundromat. Anything he wants to use from one day to the next, he will either have to carry with him everywhere he goes, or put in his car (if he has one). This includes any toiletries, medicine, detergent, utensils, clothing, books, etc.

Len will have to sleep outside, rain or shine, and wake up at the right time to go to work each morning without the benefit of an alarm clock. If he gets wet, he can’t dry his clothes unless he finds a place to hang them up to dry (while he wears what?) or goes to a laundromat to use the dryer. He will have to wash himself up the best he can without the benefit of his home’s bathroom and all the amenities in it. He will have to explain to his co-workers why he is wearing the same clothes every day, and why he isn’t able to shave or brush his teeth.

Len won’t be able to use any electronic devices, such as a cell phone or artificial lighting. He will have to amuse himself without the benefit of the internet or television, and when it gets dark, he will have to go to a lit public place to hang around, or sit in the dark. During this time, Len can think about how he would find a job without a phone a prospective employer can call to schedule an interview with him, and without clean clothes to wear to that interview, or a chance to shower in preparation for it.

And he has to manage all this on only $387 per month as if it’s the best of times. What happens if, one night, Len is robbed of all his cash? What if he has holes in this clothing and needs to buy another shirt or pair of pants? What if his car needs new tires, or he has a chronic condition like diabetes and needs medicine on a regular basis, or the police come and wake him up during the night so he can’t get a good night’s rest?

No, Len, $387 per month is not “plenty,” by any means, and it’s time for these commenters to learn how to show some compassion for their fellow human beings. I would love for these folks to try to live on $387 for even one month. Even better, they should get out and volunteer at an organization that helps local low income people, and get to know some of them. They will see that people without homes are human beings just like you and me, who are down on their luck and doing the best they can in extremely trying circumstances.

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