Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hunger in the USA #2

Yesterday, three teenage girls were killed by a train in Florida.  So far the news isn't defining "teen"; my guess would be 13-15.

They were on a railroad bridge over a river.  Just goofing around together.  A train came, and hit them.

There were people yelling at them to jump into the river, about 20 feet down according to some reports- another one says there was a parallel track they might have jumped to; old and rusted- but without a train on it.

Yes indeedy; they made really bad choices, every step of the way.

Sharon Astyk is writing about living on food stamps today, and has this to say at one point in the comments:   "Look, no one is going to argue that it would have been better for her to make better choices, but when you start 500 yards behind everyone else, you are going to lose the race unless someone provides some extraordinary help."

In my previous post on this topic we got to this point: " Very simply- lack of food is NOT the problem; and money is NOT the answer. Can't get much simpler than that."

Which is not a very useful place to get to, unless, maybe, it can suggest a new way forward.  What is the problem?  What is the answer?

I have one.  Answer.  Not, alas all of them; but maybe one.

Which hit me as a result of reading all the comments on that post.  Good stuff; good thinking- stimulating.  I'm proud of you readers.

One of the problems is - people making bad choices; repeatedly.  Being judgmental about that is totally useless; finger-shaking never fixed anything.  Besides which- if you know anyone in this kind of fix; it usually turns out there's a real, unfixable, reason for how they got there.  Being abused as a child being one of the most common.

We can't go back and fix that.  So- what could we do; now?

You know- there is something; and it actually hits several needs, in a really serious way.

Typically, with a person like Sharon's Eva,  or our Christina, when they go for help, they are connected to some kind of social worker.  An overworked one.  And most likely, since humans work this way, someone they may fear, or just not be able to connect to.

The social worker gives advice- the client listens, and takes a crack at it- and nothing happens.

Eva, and Christina- and those 3 dead girls - never had anyone teach them "how to live".

They really don't know how; for one reason or another, their ability to deal with reality is just very thin.  (My suspicions would be dismal parenting; and too much "screen time".  It's easy these days to grow up in a world where when you die, you just go get another life, and try over.  I think kids really need to fall out of trees- and we've made it very difficult.)

What they need is - someone to teach them now.


Not the social worker.  The woman down the street who is in the same financial fix- but is coping.  A peer.  A neighbor.  Someone with the time to come and cook with them; and coach- to show them not just what to do, but help them build the habits that are so crucial.  Probably share a little child care.  Maybe share a ride to a good grocery.  Shop together.

Now- the social worker knows both these ladies.  They're both on food stamps- it's just one is lost, and one is struggling through.  The social worker could put them together.

Are we throwing tons of money at this problem?  Is it helping?  (that would be 'yes', and 'no').

What we truly could and should do is start a "coach" program.  Let's pay the lady who is coping, to spend time with, and teach, and coach, the lady who is failing.   (What the hell, we're printing money like it's going out of style already- just not getting any of it to anyone who needs it.)

Somebody would get paid a little money (JOBS!!) - and - an ineffective program could be make somewhat effective, at least.  And you know- it's a sure bet that some times, a lady who managed to get turned around- will go on to become a coach.  Paid.  And really effective.

If the two ladies don't get along?  Pick someone else.  There are plenty to choose from.

This could be done.  And it could actually make a difference.  And cut down on isolation.  And build community.

Sharon and Crunchy - here's your next project.


Anybody know any legislators working on this kind of stuff?  Send them this post.


Robyn M. said...

I think this is a brilliant suggestion, with just one problem (there's always one, ain't there?). Time. I'm willing to bet that neither the woman who is coping, nor the woman who needs help, really has the time to enter a mentoring relationship like the one you describe. Maybe Eva does, since she can't find a job, but if the other woman is coping it's probably because she has some kind of work, which means that she probably barely has time to do for herself, much less help someone else. And I'll admit, I'm skeptical of there being another person in sufficiently parallel circumstances (i.e., no job, no prospects, no other income besides FS) who really is coping. Or maybe she's coping for now, but won't be for long (when that bodega bill begins to mount). Maybe the coping woman could help the other one find jobs or income, but it seems like jobs and income just are not there to be found. Maybe she could hook her up for a job, though--that would be progress, and a good outcome.

I am definitely not saying "don't do this" or "it won't work". I'd like to see a small stipend for the not-coping woman entering the program, too, as an incentive. Otherwise you get a "Great, some woman is getting paid to be my friend and show me how to live my life--super" dynamic. Not saying she doesn't need it, just that no one takes too kindly to that sort of thing. With some money on both sides, they're closer to equals. Just a couple of thoughts.

Barb-Central Texas said...

Excellent idea, Greenpa! I'd guess no government entity could do it, because the lady down the street wouldn't be a licensed social worker. But the government could encourage volunteers to donate time.

We have a program here in Texas called Texas Scholars where volunteers go into the classrooms. That is certainly be a good starting point for teaching people how to cope with reality, and the program has big results for just a small amount of effort on the part of the volunteers.

Barb-Central Texas said...

Here's the main website for the Texas Scholars program:

vera said...

Ah... natch. Ain't gonna happen. That's not how the system works. The system funnels resources to "professionals." From the rest of us.

I have recently been thinking how nice it would be if the system paid neighbors to take care of old folks who can't manage anymore, and whose kids are out working and do not have the skills, etc. Another neighbor down the street from that family could take on that elder and help out and make a living that way, while the elder would still be close to his/her family. But no...

But it's the same with everything. You can't just tell your neighbors you want to serve meals every Friday in your home for a few bucks a piece. You have to pay off the govt in fees & permits, and you have to pay off big biz by buying fancy institutional kitchen equipment. And so... it does not happen.

Our social system is weighed down with predatory middlemen. But you know? The real economy will come back. I am looking forward to it.

Greenpa said...

I don't think any of the objections so far are silly- of course there are plenty of ifs ands and buts.

But- imagine if our First Lady got excited about it- and started doing some trial runs in DC/Baltimore-


And you're right Robyn, I glossed over the problem of getting the coachee to become warm and fuzzy about the coach- but there ARE ways of getting there. Lots of people love their therapists, ya know? :-)

Sharlene T. said...

I agree with Vera -- too many bureaucrats poking their noses in and turning it into a GOVT JOB as oppossed to a community-outreach program. The only way it would work is very low-profile. An almost secret society of folks helping others. Similar to the Pay-It-Forward thinking, the process can only be given forward. Not sure about much more but it can easily start in one's own neighborhood. Will work on this.

Just found you, Granpa, and will be a follower. Hope you can visit and share a comment or two, on occasion.

Greenpa said...

Vera and Sharlene - oh, you guys are such sissys!


Take a look at this organization:

Different world, I know. But I'm familiar with these people. They did an end-run around the gummint.

Without question, if somebody asked for American Chestnut to be added to the endangered species list- it would be. Which triggers all sorts of government craziness.

Everybody hates it, really. So these guys just went ahead- and set up their own program. And got some heavyweights on board. Like Jimmy Carter.

And in 25 years, for a pittance, they've got solid results- and are starting to actually restore a keystone forest tree to a huge ecosystem. With minimal government monkey business. In fact, the gummint now comes to them, and asks if they can join up.

Citizens do still have amazing powers of individual action- they're just flabby from no exercise.

Seriously - anybody got a way to Michelle Obama's ear? Or the other guy, for that matter? If she can plant an organic garden...


Farmer's Daughter said...

I'm in my 7th year of teaching high school. Last year, I was so optimistic, working with all advanced students and seeing some wonderful steps towards sustainability and success in their futures. This year: all "average" classes. Many troubled kids, and for the most part, many LAZY kids. It seems that's my biggest complaint lately: apathy. They don't care that they're failing, they don't care that they won't get into college, they don't care that I'm disappointed and their parents are (or aren't) disappointed in them. They don't care that they don't have basic survival skills for the real world. It's really heartbreaking. And I've been thinking about it quite a bit, since my own child is due to make his arrival in just a couple weeks. What can I do differently?

I agree with you that kids need to learn to make decisions. I think of my own childhood, where I had responsibilities: working on the farm, being scheduled to work in the farm market, getting a paycheck, deciding how to spend my money, and filing taxes (which I got full refunds on, since I didn't earn that much). I started working very young, and started getting an official paycheck at 12. I think that making money choices, with guidance from my parents and discussing my poor choices while still having that safety net of parents was extremely helpful. I think the fact that most kids now don't work, either because they're not allowed due to age or because they don't "need" to, is a huge disservice to them. I think this is why so many people get into trouble when they start earning real paychecks: because they never had the experience of screwing up with a little paycheck.

Well, you can bet my kids will be working on the farm, for a real paycheck!

Greenpa said...

Farmers Daughter- oh, ouch. I've taught both college and some high school; both advanced and "regular", and I know how depressing it is to have students who don't care.

I think the problem is NOT really laziness, or that they really don't care- though they sure act that way.

I think the problem is Hope.

They don't have any.

They DO see the news- and the science teacher tells them about global warming- and they see the billions of dollars for corporate vampires, when their folks can't afford a new rug- and they hear about political corruption, both the truths and the lies.

And they ask, at that fragile time of life - "How am I- a nothing- going to survive?" And they don't believe they will.

They don't care because they believe they have no future. Find a way to give them real hard hope, if you can, and see if that makes a difference.

Greenpa said...

Good heavens! Sharlene- my apologies. I was reading too fast, saw "I agree with Vera" - and missed your crucial last paragraphs- and "Will work on this."


Anonymous said...

Potential downside:

You don't know why Neighbor Lady is doing OK.

I used to be poor. Spouse was employed full-time, I was employed part-time, both legit jobs.

Our neighbors and friends, in similar economic straits, worked under the table at various jobs (waiting tables, massage therapist, exotic dancer, auto mechanic, roadie) or had highly illegal jobs (drug dealers, sex work, small arms dealers for gangs, all lived in our craphole of a neighborhood). Technically, food stamps and welfare were their only income as far as the social worker was concerned. But for all appearances to anyone who didn't know--and they were mostly very careful about who was allowed to know--they looked to be "coping."

That's why I suggested @ Sharon's that people need to know how to navigate "alternate" economies, because doing so safely (as an auto mechanic, running a roadside farm stand, babysitting the neighborhood kids, custom sewing wedding dresses, etc.) is really key to surviving being poor. If you don't have that type of barter-able skill that is valuable even to poor people, and you don't have the street smarts to navigate that sort of thing, you can get in a bad place very fast.

Barb-Central Texas said...

Greenpa said: I think the problem is NOT really laziness, or that they really don't care- though they sure act that way.

I agree with this -- also, it's because they don't see any reason to learn the things they're being taught in school.

It's amazing how much their attitudes are changed by a couple of 1/2 day classroom meetings, the first in the 8th grade, when the kids are preparing to enter high school. The kids are invited to imagine where they want to be when they're 25. What kind of house or apartment they want, what kind of car, etc. They usually find it very easy to come up with a vision of where they want to be. Then we do a reality check. We work it out on the blackboard:

OK, if you don't have a high school diploma, here's how much you're likely to earn. Their eyes usually light up -- this sounds like a LOT of money to them. Until we start subtracting: social security, Medicare, income tax, medical insurance, food. After all that is taken out, they have maybe $200 left over for rent, clothes, car.

Then we go on to show them what they could earn, and what they could buy, with a high school diploma, with an associate degree, with a university degree.

It's not 100% effective, but it has an impressive result on a significant number of kids who otherwise would have been dropouts. It makes girls think harder about whether they really want to have sex with their boyfriends without birth control. And so forth.

If a couple of meetings has this much effect, imagine what a couple of semesters of How to Live courses could do!

Maybe courses like this could be offered to adults like Eva as well. There are all sorts of things Eva could do if she got together with a few other single mothers -- car pools, informal grapevine for job opportunities, co-operative child care while mothers work on their GED, a shared garden in a vacant lot.

Farmer's Daughter said...

I am that science teacher.... last year when we talked about climate change, my AP kids wanted to "solve" it. This year's kids think it's too late already. I see what you mean about hope.

I've only got 1 or maybe 2 weeks tops left with them for the year, but we'll be talking about biodiveristy and endangered species, one of the few topics that I still see kids get really excited about.

vera said...

Aw, greenpa, yer not gettin' it. The chestnut people did not start with a Michelle Obama. If they had, they woulda gotten snowed under some bureaucrats and that would be it.

As anonymous says, the solution is to get going, and keep it away from guvmint knowing about it. The more guvmint crumbles, the easier it will get. Alternative economies, here we come! :-)

Greenpa said...

Farmers Daughter: "I've only got 1 or maybe 2 weeks tops left with them for the year, but we'll be talking about biodiveristy and endangered species,"

you might think about telling them the American Chestnut story. Huge disaster- 50 years of failed attempts to do anything- then, some people thought about it; said "you know, we could do this." And did. Why? Because it needed to be done, for all of us.

Anon 6:48 - very true. Stuff gets very dangerous down on the lower rungs. I'd hope (silly me) that the social worker would check in once a week in the first month- and look for signs. They probably also have a good idea ahead of time as to who's doing what.

Barb - absolutely. My mom took "Home Ec"- and used it every day of her life, and taught me.

Vera - So? Try it your way! :-)

gaias daughter said...

Greenpa, I've been wondering, too, why the apathy -- and I agree, I don't think it's inherent laziness. Lack of hope may be a factor, but I've seen it in kids too young to be suffering from hopelessness. I'm thinking it may be that we've become a nation of peoples leading virtual lives.

Most kids these days get their entertainment from TV and video games and their exercise from Wii. Nothing is real, not even the food they eat. When people become that disconnected from reality, it's no wonder that they become apathetic.

As parents, it's not easy to swim against the cultural currents, but the more we can get our kids in the kitchen baking their own bread and out in the garden growing their own tomatoes and away from the 'you're not good enough as you are' messages of commercial advertising, the better things will be. That's my opinion, anywho.

Greenpa said...

Gaia's daughter: "Most kids these days get their entertainment from TV and video games and their exercise from Wii. Nothing is real"

I totally totally agree.

I'll go a little further- kids WANT to be "useful". Ask any 3 year old- "would you like to help Mommy wash the dishes?" "OOO, YES!" "Would you like to help Daddy get firewood?" "OOO YES!"

The three year old is more hindrance than help; but that's when the start learning.

Then, they feel- USEFUL. I think that's incredibly important. "I'm a good helper!" you'll hear them crow- if you teach them and let them.

"Here kid, watch Barbie (and stay out of my hair)" -introduces them to mental masturbation, very early. Very exciting while it's going on- but when you come of the trance- nothing whatever has changed.

Repeat 10,000 times- and the child will arrive at the conclusion that their life is unimportant; makes no difference to anyone.

"I'm nothing" is pretty much guaranteed to lead to deep despair.

It's true that the city world and even the suburbs don't have much opportunity for kids to make any difference. It's way too dangerous out on the street; or so we are taught.

What we teach parents now is "park the kid in front of the tubes until they're old enough for kindergarten- then the schools will handle it all, and your parent chores are done."

PuffsPlus said...

I think the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program was created as a means to give adult "life coaches" to disadvantaged youth, wasn't it? Not that I have a problem with your idea by any means, I'm just saying that there might already be programs out there doing at least some parts of what you suggest.

Brad K. said...

Farmer's Daughter,

Be sure you distinguish between disrespect for the goals you set - laziness - and distrust in you or disbelief in your values.


I look back at the social structure in movies like Jimmy Stewart's "Pot 'o Gold", and I see some fundamental differences today, even allowing for Hollywood distortions.

The boarding house - shared kitchen and facilities, low income, low prices. Subsidies for housing keeps the "one family dwelling" myth embedded in the conspicuous consumption exercise America is embroiled in.

At the same time, fashion still trumped economic security, and still related social class. "Real" people wore suits and dresses, unlike "working" people in work shirts and jackets. "Blue collar" back then seems to have been a seriously pejorative term, a very real distinction between social classes.

I liked how the music lessons were traded for laundry and clothes mending, and a couple dozen eggs. And how he local Sheriff understood and nurtured his community.

I like your shared experience idea, and even more the official sanction and interest in nurturing community members.

I had my own thoughts on Sharon's post.


vintage navelgazer said...

We have some friends who live in a large city and want to do more than talk about solutions. They and others who share their convictions looked at their city demographically and chose an economically depressed area to locate in. Their hope is to learn from and be present to their neighbors. They are gardening. They are organizing block parties so the neighborhood can get to know each other. They are hiring homeless wanderers to help with small remodeling projects. They are working as few hours at their jobs as possible, and living as simply as they can so that their time is freed up for relationships.

It gets messy, but it is amazing too. They are humbled and awed alternately by the people they meet. And, they are able to demonstrate growing some of your own food, cooking together, working together, sharing...

Not a government program, and only impacting one small neighborhood, but still, think what could happen if more people did this.

Anonymous said...

I got food stamps many years ago. I would not have liked being shoved together with another food stamp recipient, however well intended this action was. I did fine with my budget and moved out of the program. But I suppose it could be argued that by accepting assistance you give up the right to say no to other parts of a program. Would be much better if your suggestion were voluntary.

Greenpa said...

ET - Heavens! Of course.

No, really, that it has to be voluntary on both sides was so obvious to me that I totally failed to mention it; but obviously, again- it needs to be mentioned.

Actually, by the way your describe yourself, I would guess you might have been a candidate for being one of those offered a little pay to coach someone who was not doing so well. Up to you, of course!

I think the people discussed in these articles who are having such a hard time would likely welcome some help- Sonrisa, over on Sharon Astyk's blog, suggested we this this a "buddy system" - which I like a lot; could help defuse feelings.

vertalio said...

I'm liking any suggestions along these lines, G'pa, since it seems high time we turned away from screens like the one I sit at now and connect with one another. The whole paradigm is flawed...nuclear families, capitalism, the urge for dominance...the idea is to keep us divided and fearful of the other.
Less competition, more cooperation? Great.
ACF is a fine example; so is the Seed Savers Exchange, and Native Seeds/SEARCH, and so many others. Hmm...these involve nurture.

You're right; let's nurture each other.

Rev. Peter Doodes said...

It's a society problem Greenpa. So many in today’s society have isolated them self from the 'real' world.

They have a virtual TV family, a soap, as their reality, are told what to think by the media and live in the easy and cosy little world of their comfort zone, whether this is the home with the TV and/or the Wii, the car with the radio/CD/video player and anywhere else with the MP3 Player.

This way they can be completely and totally detached from all and every responsibility for whatever surrounds them, and that, sad to say, often includes their children.

If a child’s parents can't or won't value them and teach them, who will and where will they end up?

When those in today's society come to realise that their value is not simply as consumers but as individuals with worth and potential then things might change, but until then it's just us working to make a change.