San Diego, CA
Eye White Open
Sometimes, we all go through situations where we could really use a some help, even if it’s only a little. Whether it be something relatively small, like supplemental food stamps or grants for reeducation in times of employment hardships, to more immediate needs like emergency, short-term shelter to keep so that our children do not have to sleep in a car overnight. But there is a reality to this that I was not aware of until recently.
You see, about four years ago, I was laid off from my architectural job right at the time the economy hit bottom. At first, I was okay. I received a small amount of unemployment benefits, and had a few thousand dollars saved in the bank. But as the months wore on with no prospects for gaining meaningful employment, and with the savings quickly drained, I was facing a situation that was quickly becoming desperate. Know picture this, I was (am) a single, white, father with a moderate education. I knew I would need to be proactive to get through that situation if I were going to be able to continue to provide for my little girl.
So while I was searching for work, I also attempted to enroll in a re-education program offered by the Private Industry Council in San Diego, because the decline of Design/Construction industry in California had no end in sight. I wanted to prepare for the possibility that I would need to find work in a different field. The PIC requires participants to attend an orientation class, skill testing, and then a final review with an agent to be approved for the program.
After completing the orientation, I sat in the waiting room with the other candidates. I noticed right off the bat that I was the only caucasien male in the room. I also noticed that the agents there were not particularly friendly, I figured this was from being over-worked with large case loads. As I sat there waiting, I heard one of the men explain to his friend how he has “beaten the system”. He spread out in great detail how all he has to do is “play dumb”, and flunk the skill test – the result will be referrals to some great benefits, including free bus fair. As his friend chuckled in admiration, I tried not to listen because it was making me angry. There I was, a tax-paying, single parent who just needed a little help to stay on his feet and keep working, and I had to listen to someone explain how easy it was to abuse a resource that was created to get people back into the labor force and keep working.
When it was my turn to take the skill aptitude test, I scored well enough to get an interview with an agent. As I was ushered to her office, I passed by the man who was so sure of his ability to trick the system, talking to another agent who wore a sympathetic face. It’s not my war, I told myself. However, the agent (we’ll call her Kathy) who interviewed me was not so sympathetic. In fact, as I explained my situation to her, I was almost distracted by the look of contempt on her face, as if to ask, “What are YOU doing here? You’re an articulate, young white man, and you can help yourself”. After a very short interview, Kathy made it very clear that she was not in fact going to help me, even though I fell well within the qualifying factors of candidates for the PIC program (and I did read them). I received a similar response when I tried to get temporary food stamps after my savings diminished and unemployment barely covered rent.
After two whole years of not being able to find full-time employment, and not receiving a stitch of assistance from programs that have been funded be my own tax dollars from since I was 15 years-old, my unemployment benefits ran out. I was broke and disparate, especially in spirit. I was also about to become homeless with a 6 year-old little girl under my wings. I was eventually forced to move. That morning, I called a hotline to see if I get temporary shelter for a period of two weeks. You see, I actually was able to finally find some work, but it was not in time for me to keep our place to live. When the lady on the other end picked up, she was very nice. However, she told me that she couldn’t help me because there was no shelter programs for males in California, except at a facility where everyone had bads in a big room. I felt that was in no way an appropriate situation for a parent with a young child. After voicing this fact to her, she said that they only had private facilites for battered women with children. I responded by saying that I didn’t care if I slept in my car that night, however my child needed to be kept off the streets -my female child. Only after I said that did she offer the slight possibility that they may have some motel vouchers. But after checking, she said they didn’t do to limited numbers. I wonder looking back now if maybe that man I experienced at the San Diego PIC who knew how to beat the systems was one of the recipients of these limited housing vouchers.
I finally was able to get in touch with a very casual friend and beg him to let us sleep in his living room. My daughter never missed a day of school during that time, and I finally was able to get something secure for us, but with eyes open to a new understanding of how alone single, causasen fathers are when it comes to getting assistance in hard times. Yeah, my church was able to quietly donate $50 to me, which helped a little. But I was alone. I was told (by a friend of mine who is a person of color) that this is because there is an “understanding” that white men have advantages over other races in this country. Well, if she ment that we have to work hard to be sure that we are never in a situation of need because there’s nothing out there for us if we hit bottom, she just might be right.
Now it’s four years later. I’m back at work, and we’re finally beginning to recover from the ordeal. I never needed such a lesson to be more compassionate towards people or more grateful for everyday life, of which I am. However, I have been thoroughly educated and made aware of a situation in our country that I believe is grossly over-looked. That said, the Private Industry Counsel of San Diego better hope that I will never be in an position of oversight in the future, because then there would be no future PIC. At least not as it functions now. :~)