Kiss5Tigers

The 5 Tigers represent the big things in life. This blog is about facing them.


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Life Changes Fast and Slow

Do you remember a game called Boggle? It was a box with a grid in the bottom that held dice with letters on them. You shake the box to scramble the letters, then compete to see who can form the most and the longest words.

Sometimes I feel like I live in a Boggle box.

I feel like, for no reason I can discern, life is shaking me up and reconfiguring the pattern and I’d better adapt and do my best to get a high score.

Other times, I feel like life takes so very long to happen. Sometimes you’re doing everything you can do, but the process takes longer than expected or you have to wait on something else to happen that you can’t control.

So I’ve been having both situations simultaneously, and they impact each other.

I’ve had my job just over a year now, and I have been trying all this time to get full time hours. I can bid up again when the shift bids come in July, but there’s no guarantee I’ll get anything. On the other hand, I’ve been allowed to participate in some cool projects and offered a little additional responsibility, which is all good. My boss also showed me a job in another department that he thinks I should try for. It’s fewer dollars per hour but it’s full time, so I’d get about the same pay. The company likes to see wide experience in employees, so even though it’s sideways (ie. not a promotion) for now, it would be good to say I’ve done it. And full time employees get tuition reimbursement, so I could finish my degree. Education is very important to get ahead in certain types of job and it would sure help here.

So this is all very good, but it has taken a long time to get here.

Or at least, it feels like a long time to me right now. Because I am not making enough money for anyone in Texas to rent me an apartment on my own, and even if I have a roommate, most people want to qualify us separately not as a unit. I’m an adult, if I could qualify on my own, I wouldn’t be thinking of a roommate.

The people I live with are VERY unhappy that I’m here. I moved in about a year ago, and I believed I’d be able to get full time hours at work and I wouldn’t be here very long. We wrote a contract for 6 months, and I truly believed I wouldn’t even need all of that. Only it’s been 12 months, and I’m still here.

In January, the husband offered me a ride to work and said “I’m not telling you to get out, but the contract said January, and it’s almost the end of January, and you’re still here.” Um, how is that not telling me to get out? And there have been consistent reminders that I should leave on a regular basis since then, including a few actions that were clearly designed to make it uncomfortable to be here. Because apparently knowing you aren’t wanted but having no place else to go isn’t uncomfortable enough.

Now about 10 days ago, my daughter finally decided she’s ready to strike out on her own (see previous blog post “On Being a Mother Hen . . .”) and that changed A LOT about the kind of apartments I can rent. I’ve been looking at 2 bedroom apartments so my daughter could have her own room, but I can live in a studio if it’s just me. That changes rent from $800 and up, to $500 average. And THAT changes the income requirement from $2400 a month to $1500 a month, which puts things down into my price range. I was hoping to be out by the end of this month or during next month, mostly due to the time it takes to find a place.

Monday I went to a stress management session. My stress is so high that I am unusually grumpy and my stomach is creating enough acid to start damaging my esophagus. I have meds that should help until the root cause can be handled. While I was in the session, my phone kept going off with messages. I ignored it, because my powers of ignore are very strong but when I checked it later, my daughter had texted that I need to call her.

Your kid telling you to call her is very scary for a parent, but it isn’t always bad. Sometimes it’s just too complicated for text. I called, but I didn’t know what to expect. She walked into the other room, saying “I don’t think it matters, but there are ears here.”

Hmmm, not ominous at all! It made me suspicious more than anything.

“The husband has been yelling at the wife for the past 2 days about evicting you. She went down to the police station today to get the eviction order.”

Well crap.

And, eviction orders don’t come from the police, so maybe she already had it and was getting a cop to serve me?

But there wasn’t anything I could do about it at the moment. It was my day off, I had a few errands to run still then I got a very long phone call from a friend. I made some more calls to rental offices to see what could be done fast.

I also talked to a very good friend — you know, one of those friends who is more like family, even though there’s no genetic connection — and he said, basically, I needed to get out of there regardless of whether was an eviction, and I could stay with him and his wife.

Sunday is my next day off, so I am moving on Sunday.

There’s much more going on here than this, which I may or may not post about.

But the point is that for a year I have been needing to get out of here. I have tried everything I knew and could not change my situation. I could see change coming, but I couldn’t hurry it up. Life was moving very slow. Then suddenly in the last 2 weeks, the situation changed. And on Monday, I was in the Boggle box.

Still trying to spell the new words, not sure if everything is fully settled yet or how long it will take to get into the new place.

Just the knowledge that everything is different and it’s a new game now.


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Haters Gonna Hate

A large number of people feel the need to motivate me.  Okay, maybe not a large number, maybe just a few people who are really persistent about it.  “You just need a kick in the ass to get you started,” they say.  You think so?  Let’s talk about that.

I live in an uncomfortable situation.  The people I am staying with do not want me there.  They have not wanted me there for a long time now.  However, I have no place to go.  So now, they are working at making my situation increasingly unpleasant, clearly so I will leave.  Leave and go where?

But besides that, what is being accomplished here, by acting like this?

Based on rental guidelines around here, I need to be making about 50% more income per month than I am right now.  Has kicking my ass caused my company to give me a raise or increase my hours?  No.  Has it changed rental guidelines?  No.  Has it lowered rents so that I could afford something?  No.

I should get a full time job.  Hmmmm.  I have been, and continue to be, looking for a full time job but lets be clear about this.  The jobs I have heard from want to pay me about 2/3 of my current hourly rate, maybe a bit more.  When I multiply that amount times 40 hours and subtract taxes and health insurance, guess what?  It’s the same dollar amount I make now.  Why would I work more hours for the same pay?  That doesn’t make sense.  I need a full time job at the same rate of pay, give or take 10%.  That would increase my income.

When did working 40 hours become the standard for judging suitable employment? I get that it’s considered full time and in theory we all want to work full time. However, it isn’t the only criterion for a good job. I mean, you can take home $400.00 a week. Would you rather work 40 hours for it, or 25? Having less time to pursue my interests without gaining income doesn’t seem like a reasonable trade. What happened to “work smarter, not harder”? Oh, that only applies to folks working 40 hours, the rest of us are slackers. (Please recognize sarcasm, it doesn’t come across in print sometimes.)

Has kicking my ass changed the available jobs?  No.  Does it change the pay on those jobs?  No.  Does it make me complete more applications?  Well, I have already applied for everything I can find that I might be remotely qualified to do, and a few things I know I’m not at all qualified for. I am limited by actual hours and location, because I am on public transportation. I can’t take a job that starts at 7:00 am or ends at midnight simply because there is no bus in my neighborhood at that time to make sure I arrive on time or get home safely.

Oh, transportation is a problem? Then buy a car! Uh-huh. So right now I have barely enough dollars to pay bills and support myself and my daughter, but I should take on greater debt? Mobility and freedom? Better jobs because I am not tied to buses and trains? Maybe. If someone wanted to sell me a working car for say $500, I’d do it in a heartbeat. “Working” for me, in Texas, would mean engine runs, it has air conditioning so I don’t arrive at work all sweaty, and hopefully a working radio. But people want $2000 even for cars they know needs a major repair (major = $400 and up) which would totally wipe out my savings which I need for the downpayment to get into an apartment.

I could maybe get a loan and buy a newer, more expensive vehicle, maybe. There’s no repair coming up but instead there’s a recurring bill for a couple of years. Plus there would be the ongoing costs of insurance and gas. I figure I’m looking at close to $400 / month for a used car, maybe more depending on payments and gas prices. Any increase in pay is going to be eaten up by increased transportation expense. Not sure that gets me ahead at all. By which I mean, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. Makes it easier to buy groceries. $400.00 a month so I don’t have to tote cat food or laundry on the bus? Seems, well, almost frivolous.

Surely there is low income housing in my area. I’m not the only person with low income after all. Well, there is, and I don’t really qualify. I have talked to both city and county housing. City has a 2 year wait list, county is 5 years. I could move up the list if I was elderly or disabled, but I’m not. Or I could get up there if I was in a homeless shelter. Okay, let’s see:

Most local homeless shelters want you to check in by 5 in the afternoon and be out by 8 in the morning. I suppose that makes sense because it’s around regular working hours which are 8 am to 5 pm here. I work 4 pm to 8 pm, so I can’t check in at 5. Can I check in early? Some places say yes, but then you can’t leave. If you leave, you lose your place in line and there is a limited number of beds. By the time I get out of work and make it downtown, it’s close to 9:00 pm or maybe later. The shelters I’ve talked to so far are either full or locked down by then.

Besides, I have pets. And I love my pets, I don’t want to put them in a shelter or on the street. And I have this computer. I haven’t always been poor; I bought the computer when I had a job that paid more (more dollars per hour, full time hours, and I had a car back then). I already own it, I’m not gonna get rid of it just because it doesn’t fit people’s idea of what poor folks own. I also can’t leave it or my phone unattended in a shelter when I use the bathroom or take a shower. Most of us are honorable, but there’s always someone who isn’t. I hate saying that however my experience suggests it’s true.

So why didn’t I try to get help from this place sooner? I’m sorry, I’ve been struggling with this issue for 2 years now and you think I’m just now looking for help? You think this is my first round of calls to social service agencies who have nothing for me? You think I’ve been sitting on my butt for the last 2 years doing nothing because clearly the fault has to be with me personally and not with the way the system is set up or people’s perceptions of who needs help compared to who actually needs help? Not saying other people don’t need help, just saying there are more categories of people out there than fit the criteria for many agencies.

All of which is to say, I don’t need you to kick my ass. Life is already kicking my ass. I am close to the point of learned hopelessness, you know, where you stop trying because whatever you do is wrong. I could use a hug. I could use a lead to job that will actually support me. I could use a little hope and encouragement.

But by all means, feel free to continue telling me I lack motivation and I’m not trying hard enough.

Just don’t be surprised if I have no sympathy for you when the tables are turned.


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Typical day on the phone

Most days, I spend the morning on the phone.  Now I may have facebook and email up, but I’m probably just clicking around there while I leave messages.  So, just to prove that I do more than sit on my hiney and drink coffee, this is today’s phone calls and responses:

In Texas, churches and other agencies no longer operate privately, you call 2-1-1 to get referred to clearinghouse agencies.  So I started there, because the list does change as funding becomes available to different places.  I am looking for rental assistance for 03/01, and also utility assistance.

Richardson Network — will only help with rent if I have a job.  However, they did set me an appointment for 10:00 in the morning on 03/04, which works around the training schedule for my new job.  They gave me a list of required items and I guess I will print off the official offer letter to see if that will work as proof of employment.

Richardson East Care Corps — no funds available until April

North Dallas Shared Ministries — will only help people who are currently employed having a one-time emergency.  New job starts 03/03?   Talk to us after you’ve been there 5 days.  That won’t help with 03/01 rent.

Then I called places that I could think of:

United Way — provides funds to charities, does not provide funds directly to individuals.  I knew that, but I figured they might know agencies in my area.  Referred me to Red Cross and Salvation Army

Red Cross — natural disaster assistance only (which I pretty much expected, but you never know)

Salvation Army — no funds available

Catholic Charities — on Mondays only, they will set an appointment for a counselling session to see what they can do.  I couldn’t call this Monday because everything was closed for President’s Day.  I can call next Monday 02/24, but I doubt I will get an appointment and then be funded by 03/01.  Most appointments are 1 to 2 weeks out and I don’t have that time.

Jewish Family Services — left voicemail, no return call yet

Local High School — talked to my daughter’s principal and was referred to student assistance.  Left voicemail, no return call yet

Ex-husband — daughter lived with him until last March, so he had custody.  He has refused to sign her over to me unless I agree not to pursue child support, and I’m not giving away her right of access to any resources he might have, so we’ve been at a standstill.  He called a couple weeks ago and said he was going to get us $200 twice a month (he gets paid that often).  Last month he gave us $300 total.  He did not answer my call today, left voicemail, no return call yet.

Urban League — left voicemail, no return call yet

County HHS — this one was actually very frustrating.  They are listed as: Section 8 Rental Assistance Program, County Emergency Rental Assistance / Welfare Program and Housing Assistance Program, Health and Human Services, City HAP, Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program / CEAP and HUD-Approved Assistance.  There are 2 phone numbers, one to the general HHS office and one to the specific housing office.  I finally realized that these are all the same place, but it took several calls and much confusion.  They only provide housing assistance to disabled people, which I am not.  They told me to call for an appointment for utility assistance which would be set for next week.  I called 22 times in an hour, on 3 of those I got a pre-recorded message about high call volume, call later.  The other calls were not even answered by an automated system.

CCA (Christian Community Action) — number not in service

Center of Hope — even though the blurb says they provide assistance in my city, they do not cover my zip code

City Department of Housing — referred me to 2 other agencies

Multi-Purpose Center — outgoing message states do not leave message, appointments are set from 9 to 11 Mondays and Wednesdays, list of places for which funding is available and for which it is not, please call back

MLK Social Service line — outgoing message states center is open Monday and Wednesday from 9 to 11 or until all available appointments are filled

County Planning and Development — must be disabled

Housing Authority — circular phone tree.  Press 1 for English.  Press 3 for all other departments.  Press 3 again for all other departments (yep, they didn’t list my department either time).  Press 1 for English.  Press 3 for all other departments.  Twice.  Press 0 to see if I could get an operator, got asked to press 1 for English again.  Gave up, since apparently they don’t actually want to talk to people, and really I expect them to tell me they can only help if I’m disabled.

High School — called me back.  Said they can provide free breakfast and lunch (we already get that, but the lady wouldn’t know) and a bus pass so daughter can continue to stay in this school if we are in a shelter.  I will go down and fill out the form for that, she can use the bus pass in any case since she might need to stay late to use internet at school from time to time.

Tried the CEAP one more time, got a message that said high call volume, agents busy, please hold.  Listened to it cycle about 5 times, then was told to call again later.

So that was my  morning from 8 to 12:15.  I am now going to take a shower and get on the bus to make the rounds of places I can visit in person, see what I can get done.  I am also going to do dishes, make lunch, look at Volusion to see if they are more affordable than Etsy for selling the stuff I make.  I have an Etsy account but I haven’t been able to post anything or renew postings in months.  I will also look at other funding options online, see if there’s anything I can do.  No loans, though, because at this point with my anticipated income, I can’t guarantee being able to pay them back.

I can’t wait to get back to work.  It’s less stressful.

 

 

The rest of the day:

I left the house at 1:30 to catch the bus.  I had a check from a family member that I needed to take to the bank.  The bank is across the street from Jewish Family Services so I stopped in.  I told the lady behind the counter my issues and she said at first that they didn’t have any funds.  Then I told her the backstory, and she told me to come back tomorrow and talk to someone.  I stopped by the grocery store and tried to pay a bill with the money from the check but they wouldn’t take it because the bill was past due.  Really, all my bills are past due because in Texas when you become unemployed it takes them 5 weeks to get you the full amount of the first month’s payments.  That means that all your bill have cycled at least once, and since unemployment pays about 65% – 70% of your previous income, you don’t have extra money to catch up, so you just pay past due amounts.  Anyway, I walked down the block to catch a bus to another grocery store to make the payment.  This time I was clever enough to write the account number on a separate piece of paper and not pull out the bill.  Then I had to wait for the bus again, which was 15 minutes late, and connect to another bus.  Got home just about 6:30.  So it took me 5 hours to do only those few things.  I did pick up sleeves for my artist trading cards that I’ve been making though (100 sleeves for $0.79, so I don’t feel hugely guilty about that) and I stopped in at PetsMart and petted the adoption kitties for a minute.  I knew I had time for that and still made the bus to pay the bill.  Now all I have to do is call and be sure the payment is logged.


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Becoming poor

Wow, has it really been over 2 months since I last posted?  I apologize.

I’ve been unemployed since May, which means I am now out of unemployment benefits.  Oh, dear, now that IS a problem.  Because I haven’t had in interview since October and I need to pay rent and eat.

How does this happen?  I can only tell my story, such as it is.

About 5 years ago, I was laid off.  I was unemployed for almost 2 years, then I got a job at a bank.  I did the job for about 20 months as a temp, then was changed to a direct hire and did the job for another 15 months.  Over time, the job changed from the opportunity to really help customers to an outbound call center.  I do not have the right temperament to work in a call center, but I kept going in while trying to find something else.

In the meantime, my daughter came to live with me.  She had been living with her dad before then.  Although he is happy to have her here, he refuses to sign her over to me unless I agree not to file against him for child support.  I won’t agree so he retains custody, but I now have all the expense and other costs of being a parent.  My daughter has had some trauma in her life and is diagnosed with PTSD.  How is that relevant?  Well, between my boss’s dislike of my unsuitability to the job and the impact that caring for a PTSD person had on things like sleeping and my morning routine, I got fired.

The official reason for being fired was consistent lateness.  Well, the biggest single factor for that is that I don’t own a car.  This is not a choice so much as an economic necessity.  That means I rely on DART to get to work, and DART is not reliable.  On good days, it took about 45 minutes to get to work.  If connections didn’t work, which was at least once a week, I could be 15 or 20 minutes late.  If the bus was early or I was late, well, rush hour buses in Dallas are half an hour apart so I would be something like 45 minutes late, or an hour if the connections didn’t work.  Since DART’s poor scheduling is out of my control, and since the company knew when they hired me that I was a DART rider, the unemployment office honored my request for payment.

I didn’t expect to be unemployed this long.  I got my first job when I was 16, so I’ve been working for close to 35 years now.  Except for those times when I was a full time student and when I was an at-home mom of a preschooler, I have had a job.  It’s weird to me that I don’t even get called for interviews any more.  I haven’t had an interview since October.

About 5 years ago I got laid off from a government job.  At that time, when unemployment ran out, you got an extension.  Sometimes there were issues with the timing, that is, I’d run out just after the extension period ended so I’d keep requesting payments but no money was sent to me.  Then another extension would be approved and I’d be caught up for missed payments.  Once money was awarded to you, it was sent to you util the money ran out, even if the extension qualification period ended.

This time, I have come to the end of unemployment and there is no extension.  Don’t get me wrong.  I went to the web site and at that time it still said Tier 1 and Tier 2 extensions were available.  My benefits ran out 12/17, but last day to request payment was 12/22, almost a week later.  That meant that instead of getting paid for 2 weeks, I’d only get paid for 1.  Well, really, right ahead of Christmas, right ahead of rent due on the first, and for me right ahead of my lease renewing which included a 10% increase plus pet rent.  (We have a new management company so the pet rent is a new policy on pets that have lived here with me for 2 years already.)  Very bad timing to have a delay in getting paid.

So I called the unemployment office to see if there was any way to expedite the process.  I went round and round with the lady, who kept telling me that there were no extensions after the 28th.  I told her that my benefits would run out well in advance of the 28th and she kept insisting that I wouldn’t get an extension.  Finally I explained to her that I had been unemployed before for an extended period of time and that in the past, as long as I was qualified before the cut off date, I would get the extension.  The lady put me on hold for several minutes.  When she came back, she told me that she consulted her supervisor who told her that per the Federal government, even if I qualified for the extension, no funds could be disbursed after 12/28.

Let me say that again.  I would probably qualify for the extension based on the available guidelines however the Federal government would not allow states to issue payment to claimants after December 28 even if they had already qualified and been awarded funds.

So I have applied to the government for welfare now, since I have to feed and house my child.  I had the interview for that this morning.  I need to gather further information for some of the programs, but it looks like food stamps could be awarded to me as soon as tomorrow. It will take another couple of days to get the card, but that’s okay, I can live with that.

The irony for my ex husband?  TANF is considered a child support program.  They require me to file with the attorney general for the collection of child support in order to qualify.  Also, since I don’t have health insurance at this time, if I qualify for Medicaid, that cost too can be passed on the my ex.  (Actually, I think that’s unreasonable.  He’s responsible for his child, sure; but 10 years after the divorce is final, I hardly think he should be responsible for my health insurance.)  So he could have agreed to child support, or he could have signed her over to me without even mentioning child support, but he had to stand on his principles.  And I simply won’t give away any of my daughter’s rights to child support, which worked in my favor because it means I’m not going against court orders to qualify for assistance.

So that’s how is happens.  That’s how people become poor.  I’m not whining, I’m not looking for pity, I’m just telling my story.