Needing Help is Okay

This week I had, what is most likely, the worst delivery experience of my year so far.

There are certain buildings in Brockton that I have come to know and hate as the worst places to live. These buildings are old and incredibly run down. They usually smell bad, some are visibly falling apart, and are just generally depressing. Rooming houses- as they are called- are basically really awful dorms for adults. You pay for one room which has a twin bed and sometimes a kitchenette. While to younger people, a shared bathroom might sound like a fun way to meet new people, I can assure you this is not the case for these people. One of the worst parts about it all is that the residents are often older people with bad health; but because of their financial situation that is all they can afford.

So as I said, I have come to know and hate these places. They hurt my heart and make me worry about the people that live there. The single redeeming quality I have found in these buildings is the community created within them. While there are people that don’t get along, generally I see people looking out for each other. Opening doors so we can drop off food, making calls to help lines or going to doctors visits together. Unfortunately that is not what I saw at my first food delivery on Tuesday.

This was my first time to this specific building, although we had served this client before at different locations; we’ll call the client Matt. Matt is very sweet and while he may have some mental health or addiction issues; it is not my job to decide if he needs help. If he calls, then we come. It’s that simple. So Tuesday I find myself standing at the front desk of his building waiting for Matt to come down to let us in and I met the most unpleasant woman working the front desk; well call her Sarah. Sarah blatantly insulted Matt in front of the crew of people delivering food to him. She was speaking to another person in the lobby, maybe an employee or maybe a tenant. She talked about how Matt doesn’t pay his bills and how he gets help from the local pantries often. I don’t know if Sarah was a tenant working through a work placement program or a professional in social services. I don’t know if Sarah and Matt have a history.

Whatever her position or their relationship, it was really disappointing to hear how people regard people that need help. The stigma that goes with asking for help has got to be the worst part about poverty. There is this idea that being poor is your fault. That if you worked harder it wouldn’t have happened to you. That you’re just lazy and want free handouts. Sure, that may be the case for some people. I won’t assume that everyone is as altruistic as we may hope, but I know that is not the majority.  I personally make about 30 food deliveries a week and each person I meet is grateful. That don’t know where else they would have gotten food. People show me the inside of their refrigerators with nothing but baking soda and butter in it.  Being poor is not anyone’s fault and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

I am a big fan of Humans of New York and I would invite you to read this man’s story. This really speaks to the challenges of poverty. It’s so much more than not being able to buy whatever you want.

So be nice to people. Don’t make assumptions. Even if they drive a nice car. Even if they have nice clothes. Even if they have drug or alcohol addictions. Just be nice.

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