(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Missing Memories ·
I’ve been involved in many evictions, but I can only imagine what it must be like for someone to lose their home.
I’ve been part of the process. When I was a civil process server, I delivered the legal papers that led to people being kicked out of their residence, into the streets. I looked people in the eye and handed them orders to be out of their apartment, their trailer, or their house.
I tried to be as helpful as possible. I answered their questions, doing my best but limited from giving legal advice, often replying that I didn’t know. I encouraged them to contact their landlord, an attorney, or legal aide, knowing that money—not talking—was the real answer.
Basically, I was the person who assured them that their nightmare was indeed real.
“How can you do this job?” friends would ask. I answered, rationalizing that someone had to do it. Whether I did it or not, it would be done, so why not me? I saw myself as helpful in that I respectively informed people of what was going on and assertively explained to them their limited choices.
Before I ever thought about being a civil process server for the sheriff’s office, I got to know a family living in poverty. I knew them because I was a community volunteer helping children.
As one Christmas approached I was shopping for a gift for Amber, the six year-old girl in the family. I spent a lot of time finding her the perfect present. Eventually, I found a lovable stuffed animal that was soft and adorable. I pictured Amber, pleased with her new best friend.
About a week after Christmas that year, I learned that Amber and her family had been evicted from their trailer. They had not paid their rent or electric bill. I immediately thought of Amber and her stuffed animal.
The family had lost access to a majority of their possessions. Most remained behind, locked in the former residence. I was told that the landlord wouldn’t allow them to retrieve their belongings until they paid their back rent.
They never did.
When I drove by that locked, vacant trailer, I imagined Amber’s stuffed animal being part of the property she would never see again. It would become another forgotten toy, a faded memory.
I considered what Amber’s life must have been like. I asked myself questions.
- “How does being evicted impact someone, especially when they’re a child?”
- “What does that do to a person’s psyche—their mind, personality, and soul?”
- “How can parents be more responsible so that they can help prevent this trauma?” (Note: I realize that individuals have no control over so many factors: market conditions with stagnant wages and increased costs, income inequality, death, disease, disability, and divorce.)
- “What if our society made affordable housing more accessible?”
Today, every day, families continue to be evicted from their homes. Children carry the emotional scars of having their lives uprooted.
I still ask myself questions such as: “What does it do to a person’s self-esteem, confidence, trust, hope, and mental health?”
In our home, we have photo albums that help trigger our memories. For people who have lost their mementos, they’ve also lost reminders of who they once were. Part of their personal history has been erased.
I’ve never been evicted, but I can only imagine how it affects children.
- If you lived in poverty, would you be focused on your homework?
- Would you be studying for an upcoming test at school?
- Would you be your best?
I know that many kids weather a challenging childhood, seemingly unscarred. Their resiliency allows them the opportunity to not only survive, but the drive to be successful.
But back to you. If you came home from school and found a notice of eviction taped to your front door, what would you do?
If you had a stuffed animal, would you take it with you?
Until next time, happy writing and reading!
Miriam Iwashige says
Last night over supper Hiromi and I were talking about the problem of adequate and affordable housing and lamenting how this affects some of the diligent and responsible people we know. We remembered how we’ve always been provided for somehow, but wondered whether similar income with today’s housing costs would have reached around. Your post focuses on the most heart-wrenching aspects of this–a small part of the poverty problem.
Jim Potter says
Miriam, thanks for your comment. Most “experts” advise that you should spend no more than 30% of your income on housing. However, rent prices continue to increase faster than wages. It’s estimated that in the US over 11 million renters dedicate at least half their income to housing. When they spend so much of their income on housing, what do they need to give up in order to pay the rent? Food? Clothing? Healthcare?
I know this is real but it breaks my heart.
Jim Potter says
Thanks for your comment. Our children deserve safety nets so they don’t get seriously hurt. Also, here’s a book that addresses how people can recognize and overcome their adverse experiences. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa.