I’m what you would you call a “working homeless man.” When I moved back to Ithaca from Rome more than four years ago, the jobs I found didn’t pay enough for me to afford housing. This isn’t uncommon: there’s a vast number of people who run the infrastructure of this town — the busses, the restaurants — but aren’t able to afford to live in it. Ithaca’s unaffordability falls hardest on low-wage workers like me, the people who are treated like they’re nobody.
Though I’ve held down several jobs in the culinary industry, I’ve been forced to live in a tent. Every day I pack up and move to a new place, and there are so few places that we’re allowed to stay. Making minimum wage, bringing home less than two grand a month. . . it’s just not enough to find something better. Knowing how expensive this town is, even a simple room with hardly any living space might cost me a downpayment of more than $3000. No matter how I try to solve the puzzle, I still end up with the same answer that I can’t make enough money to afford a place to live.
I’ve worked 60 hours some weeks, and that’s still not enough. Social services don’t help much either, because they cut you off at arbitrary levels. On top of that, there are so many barriers to breaking out of poverty on an individual level. One of those barriers is transportation, especially if you can’t afford a car and are working for restaurants like me. Taxis are too expensive and the busses stop running early. This is all part of a perpetual cycle that keeps a large part of the population at a poverty level. Why are there more and more people making poverty wages, and less and less people who could be classified as middle-class? It shouldn’t be that way. People living in poverty don’t get much say on what’s going on in the community, even though we’re an important part of it.
Living with low wages means that I’m constantly worried about trying to survive. I can’t afford to entertain myself, maintain a social life, or even travel to see my children a few hours away. If I made a living wage, things would be different and I could finally rebuild my life. I would find housing, pay old power bills, take care of my health, and see my children. The cost of traveling one hundred miles to see my three younger kids would no longer be unbearable. These have always been major goals of mine, but they seem impossible unless workers like me start getting paid more. If not, the full cycle of poverty will keep coming around. . .