Wednesday, November 12, 2003


An email from a reader in response to my post of October 24th:

“I just had to write and say thanks for telling it like it is. I wrote federal grant applications (U.S.) for the local public housing authority for four years. I also managed the programs funded by the grants. In the course of managing the grants I interacted with our clients daily, often in their own households.

We had 700 units of housing; about 300 units were dedicated to seniors and disabled folks living on fixed government incomes; the rest were devoted to "families," or, non-euphemistically, single mothers with lots of children.

Like you, I grew up in a working-class household. My mother was a waitress, and my father sold furnace cleanings. We had very little money, but both my parents knew how to live on a shoestring, and we lived pretty well considering there were few frills.

I was totally shocked when I started working for the housing authority. Single mothers with three or more children, with a household income of less than $600/month (remember, the housing was pretty much free), would spend scads of money on video games, expensive shoes--not just for the kids, but for themselves--and home entertainment systems. Marijuana, which is now way more expensive than it was in my own mildly misspent youth, was always around. And the drug and alcohol usage was just as you reported among your own tenants.

Worst of all were the men these women always hooked up with -- convicted felons, with histories of violence, drug manufacturing, even child abuse. Because of their records, Violent Felon Boyfriends never qualified to be on the lease (the housing authority actually had minimum regulations), so the women would let them stay there illegally, an offense that would get the whole family kicked out of housing if discovered.

And guess who would inevitably turn in women with illegal "houseguests"? Other women in housing who wanted Violent Felon Boyfriend for themselves! After Woman #1 and Children were off the scene, VFB would just move into Woman #2's housing. The pattern was so predictable that we had jokes about these parasites, who were legally barred from housing but managed to stay longer than the low-income women who qualified.

I left when I finally realized that no amount of grant-funded counseling or grant-funded community college vouchers or grant-funded child care was going to change these women's lives. At every decision-making crossroads, they always, always, always picked the worst possible path.

I have come to think that having multiple children out of wedlock does not cause bad judgment, but rather is a symptom of judgment that is atrocious to begin with. I grew up in the same sexually permissive society that these women did, had teenage bouts with transgressive behavior, but always made sure I didn't get pregnant. That these women do so--repeatedly!--is not the fault of "society." It's just one of many, many foolish decisions they make.

By the way, the seniors and disabled folks did pretty well. They rarely complained, kept neat households and looked out for one another. I never felt we were wasting our time with them.”


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