This is well-written, heartbreaking and worth taking the time to read.
“Janis Adkins hadn’t been back in Santa Barbara long before she needed to apply for government assistance. She had never asked for aid before. At the California Department of Social Services, she filled out the form for emergency food stamps.
“I didn’t wear my best clothes, but I wore a light blouse and jeans, and I guess I was just a little too dressed up,” she recalls. “Because the woman just looked at me and said, ‘Are you in a crisis? Your application says you’re in a crisis.’ I said, ‘I’m living in a van and I don’t have a job. I have a little bit of money, but it’s going to go fast.’ The woman said, ‘You have $500. You’re not in a crisis if you have $500.’ She said anything more than $50 was too much.”
If Adkins had filled her tank with gas, done her laundry, eaten a meal, and paid her car insurance and phone bills, it would have used up half of everything she had. But emergency food stamps, she was told, are not for imminent emergencies; they’re for emergencies already in progress. You can’t get them if you can make it through the next week – you have to be down to the last few meals you can afford.
“The money’s for my phone, it’s for gas, it’s for my bills,” Adkins said.
“Why are you in a crisis,” the woman asked, “when you have a phone bill?”
“I need the phone so I can get a job. You can’t look for a job without a phone.”
“Why do you have bills?” the woman asked. “I thought you didn’t have a place to live.”
“I live in my van,” Adkins said. “I have insurance.”
“You have a 2007 van,” the woman said. “I think you need to sell that.”
“Please, I need a break,” Adkins said. “I need some help. I need to take a shower.”
“Why didn’t you have a shower?”
“I live in a van.”
The woman told Adkins to come back when she really needed help.”