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The Streetlife Gallery in Seattle, Washington is a wonderful project. The gallery is a "cooperative established to provide and promote an artistic and dignified working environment and art gallery for persons in financial difficulty." Explore some of their artist's work!
An E-Mail from one of our readers.

(Note: We have left this letter up for some time now because our readers have found it very informative and it shows welfare reform from another perspective. Many times as we make policy decisions and discuss politics, we become too abstract and forget the human side of our day-to-day decisions. We hope this letter will remind everyone of the real issues at hand.)

Good, I got your attention! Let me begin by introducing myself. My name is _________ ____________, I am a 38 year old, divorced mother of two. I also happen to be a welfare recipient and a college senior on the Dean's List at _________ University. I am writing you because I want to show the other side of welfare, I want others to know that all women on welfare are not lazy, unmotivated and uneducated. For every negative human interest story that is published in the _________________, there are at least 5 people like me, striving to make a difference, to change her life, to survive and reach back to help another.

If someone had told me 2 years ago that I would be back in college I would have slapped him/her. I was in an abusive marriage, my ex-husband tried on numerous occasions to kill me. I was in and out of hospital emergency rooms with sprains and bruises and dislocations and knocked-out teeth. I was on Prozac and on the verge of losing my job as well as my mind. I left my husband and that life behind. I left with my 4 year old daughter and the clothes on our backs.

I moved to ________, living with a relative I made an attempt to start over. It is not easy to live in this area of the country making less than $25,000 per year, try doing it on $12,000, raising two children!! It is virtually impossible without some type of assistance. But wait, I'm not uneducated or unskilled. I had completed 2 years of college before I dropped out in 1980 to give birth to my son, I was employed as a federal employee, all was good until I met my husband, then things began to go sour in my life. Next, the President decides to down-size government and I go from working full-time to part-time. It is not easy supporting 4 people but I did, I worked three jobs, one full-time during the day, one part- time at night and 16 hours on the weekend. You see I'm not lazy, I believe in the "American Dream" I want to succeed. But life throws some funny twists and turns and at the age of 35 I found myself, homeless, battered and on welfare.

Receiving welfare does not make your life better, not even bearable, it just makes your life belong to someone else. That someone who is your worker, who sometimes makes you jump through hoops just to get an extra $25 per month in food stamps! No I don't drink or smoke or do crack or sell drugs. I buy and eat food with my food stamps. I clip coupons and the Safeway coupon book is a lifesaver; I saved the government $35 this week alone.

Nor do I live, dress, or entertain like a queen while living month-to-month. I receive $294 each month. This does not go very far but I must buy clothes for my daughter, school supplies, shoes, transportation (metro bus), as well as pay my share of the monthly expenses. My share is $200 per month divided between telephone, electricity and rent. I share an apartment with a friend who took me in when I was homeless. He is disabled, until he collapsed on the kitchen floor 10 months ago, he worked 2 full-time jobs 5 days a week. Not all welfare moms associate with lazy, no-good, drug using men. He works hard, we are facing eviction in a matter of days. Sometimes we can't meet the bills because he makes $625 bi-weekly; the state of ________ takes $327 bi-weekly. Sound excessive? It is, the child support is doubled due to a clerical error made by ___ over a year ago, they are "working on getting it corrected" Will he get a refund of the excess moneys paid? _______ Child Support _______ says NO! without explanation, Sound like a case for a lawyer? Of course, but who can hire a lawyer with a monthly income of less than $600 per month?! Contact legal aid? Been there, done that! They refused to take the case, told him to "grin and bear it, you've put up with it this long"

So, in the past two years I have endured homelessness, a wicked divorce, separation from my son, oh, did I forget to mention I have a 16 year old son? I had to send him to live with my mom and dad, I can't afford to feed him. No, I don't get child support, its been court-ordered but... you know the story.

Anyway, like the phoenix, I rise. I enrolled in ________ University last August. Scared as hell, but I knew I had to do something to insure that my life would not continue the downward spiral. I was accepted, but could I compete and achieve some measure of success? Yes! Fall 96 - GPA 3.22; Spring 97 - GPA 3.7, Summer 97 - GPA 3.65; all done while working part-time, praying full-time and doing the Mommy Thing in between. I've been awarded scholarships as well as an offer to study overseas under the auspices of the prestigious ________. I am preparing to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) in October and will graduate magna cum laude in May 1998. Not bad for a welfare mom, huh?

I guess what I'm really trying to say is, its damn depressing to open the Post everyday and see who killed whom, who stole what, which store was robbed and why the government had to implement welfare reform to get these lazy-azz women to work.

Welfare reform did not get me into school, it has not given me confidence or mental strength and fortitude to be a survivor. I am not one more in a long family history of welfare recipients. I come from a family of doctors and politicians, teachers and artists, federal workers and entrepreneurs. Sometimes as the saying goes: Stuff Happens!

I am here to speak for the hundreds of women who didn't ask to be on welfare but have to. I speak for the children of these mothers; these children don't want to be given this legacy to live. For every negative story printed, there is at least one positive one that goes unreported. Perhaps the positive stories would better serve the interest of true welfare reform.


Earl Shorris, at Harper's Magazine, has a new book on poverty, W.W. Norton called "New American Blues: A Journey Through Poverty to Democracy."

An excellent book by a Texas poverty writer:
"Poverty" by Ruby K. Payne Ph.D.
Published in 1995 by a regional publisher: RFT Publishing
3106 Sandpiper, Baytown, Texas, 77521, USA
Compares "situational poverty" vs. "generational poverty" and their causes.
Learn more about our Book Shoppe
in association with

Look for Kathryn Edin and Laura Lein's new book
"Making Ends Meet:
How Single Mothers Survive Welfare and Low-Wage Work."

Lein and Edin research the day-to-day
lives of welfare and non-welfare parents with
startling results and insight!

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