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U.S. Recession: Poverty Beyond the Streets

February 12, 2008

povertychildren.jpgThe U.S. census reports that 36.5 million people were living within the technical definition of poverty in 2006. “There is still a generation of no progress against poverty,” said Sheldon Danziger, at the National Poverty Center in Michigan. “Somehow, we have to confront the fact that … a rising economy no longer lifts all boats.” If you travel in the United States, you can see that this is the case for all kinds of reasons.

While Nashville has been proven to be one of the most impoverished areas in Tennessee, it has the trappings of a cosmopolitan city in certain areas. Belle Meade, Franklin, Brentwood and parts of the West End into downtown showcase the narrow face of prosperity in the area. Looking at the city as a whole renders a very different picture. In the 1960s and 1970s, government-sponsored housing entertained its renaissance in Nashville, with the prolific building of modest high rise towers in an effort to raise the living standards of the people and create better housing for the poor. The city is rife with ancient housing with a few rooms that owners continue to peddle because of the affordability. Car dealers peddle some of the worst cars in the nation. It’s widely known that Nashville is a corporate dumping ground for selling old and damaged vehicles nobody else will buy. The desperation is clear when you see the sheer volume of “tote the note” free enterprise. The lack of infrastructure is evident as people walk to work in the mud and grass along the side of the road as harried commuters rush by at 60 miles an hour. Politicians have failed to build bridges over the Cumberland River as traffic chokes the city. Were it not for the federal funding of highways, the city would be permanently choked by lack of resources. Auctions are big business in Tennessee like nowhere else. The poverty and lifestyle of misfortune provide for the vultures of the community. Cheap motels and trailer houses that double as homes are a mainstay of life. The scenic pervasive greenery and hills cover the truth of life here with deceptive beauty.

povertyelderly.jpgTodd, one of the managers of a privately-owned high-rise complex said, “Our facility meets a real need in the community. We mostly house retired people on fixed incomes. Residents may have as little as $100 in government benefits and can still find a place to live because of government subsidies.” These towers of small residential-style apartments are a microcosm of the city as a whole. Naturally certain residents tend to stand out. Displaced prisoners often find their way into these communities, along with the handicapped, elderly and the mentally ill. Just like in the real world, people behave as they otherwise would, except that the close conditions of these towers magnify the behaviors of the humanity that resides inside.

You do find a community of relationship among some of the residents. Card games and patio conversations are common events as well as rampant rumors. Many hide themselves within their apartments because of abusive residents and the fact that transportation is not readily available from where they live. In many locations in Nashville, public transportation is non-existent to those that need it most. MTA Nashville deliberately excludes some of these towers that are as close as a-half mile from regular routes, effectively trapping many residents within their provisioned homes. There is little provision to assist the elderly with basic chores and needs within the closed community of these towers. Much of the resident turnover is created by death, created in part from the surroundings and the lack of proper personal care. Where the care is available, transportation and assistance to get to that medical care is usually lacking. Access Ride through Nashville MTA is a program designed to assist elderly and handicapped residents. The waiting process to get transportation is impossibly long to meet real needs and the bureaucratic paperwork to apply for help is astoundingly slow. Access to the most basic grocery stores is more than a mile away for many elderly and disabled residents. Walking is not an option for most. In general, local churches have failed to step in. Instead, they set up facilities so that the “impoverished with cars” can come to pick up food and clothing to “meet their needs.”

The management of many of the towers fails to provide even basic facilities to look after the needs of the residents even though they often promise them and plan them. Taxis are the only means to get around for people that can rarely afford them. The real estate companies that run the towers obtain government grants to beautify the appearance of the properties while the residents live in roach-filled hovels with leaking plumbing, mold, leaking windows, fallen ceilings from broken pipes and sometimes lack of hot water. They pocket the remaining money to cushion their corporate bottom line and pay the staff. Many of these buildings are so old that the management has legal exclusion provisions written into leases for any personal damages whatsoever, effectively making themselves immune from legal action for any reason. Business and politics are not charities and yet politicians find themselves increasingly moderating the problems of the poor. Free legal assistance is promoted, yet is almost non-existent as abuses against the poor run rampant. The system of laws initiated by business and politics presents the appearance of concern as they pretend to meet the needs of their constituents and customers. In reality, the people they claim to serve are sent away without the help they need as the oppression continues. It is true that many people are not living in the streets. The fact of the matter is that poverty in America is not about living on the streets. ~ E. Manning

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