The Rubber Glove

IMG_1715“We have a lack of quality low-income housing in Muncie,” Steve, the city’s building commissioner, said. One night a month the Circles community, which works to lift people out of poverty, hosts a Big View session open to the public to discuss issues that people living in poverty face.

Last night we talked about housing.

“Two week into my job I got called out to a house.” Steve paused and stared at the floor. It seemed as if he was setting up a long story that would include details like where the house was and what it looked like. But then he sat back and got right to it. “A mother was holding her child and she forgot to put the rubber glove on that her landlord gave her to safely flip the light switch. They were both electrocuted.”

The room went silent. A breath would have been as loud as a gun shot.

“Now…now…” Steve said, not in a consoling sort of way but in a I should have said “shocked” instead of “electrocuted” way. “They were treated and released, but…I thought it was the only one. It’s not. I think it’s immoral to [as a landlord] take money and not provide simple services. “

For the first 15 minutes Steve talked about houses without running water and without electricity (or without safe electricity); places that endangered the lives and health of those paying to live there.

The mother who was shocked while holding her child paid $350 to live there.

Why would someone pay to live in those conditions? Probably because she’s scared. Would any other landlord rent to her? Would they want a deposit?

Who knows why she lived there. But living in poverty means you often have an extreme lack of options. Even Steve recognized his powers were limited.

“BUT…we can’t stop you from being evicted. “

So, you could report that your landlord isn’t providing a safe place that meets code. The building officials could come in and agree with you, but they couldn’t keep your landlord from kicking you to the curb.

What would you do? Would you keep your mouth shut or put on the glove?

Thankfully Muncie has a not-for-profit organization, Bridges Community Service, that helps mothers like this find new or temporary housing. But what if you didn’t know about that?

Last week I introduced a new Go Glocal challenge: research the poverty statistics in your backyard.

The poverty stats of my home county (Delaware County, Indiana):

  • 20% live in poverty
  • 23.5% under age 18 live in poverty

I’ve written about what the “poverty level” is before, but nothing quite sums it up for me as Steve’s story about the mother and her rubber glove.

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