“Covering the costs of basic needs is a daily struggle.”
I’ve lived in Hillyard, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington state, for my whole life. I was raised in extreme poverty in poor living conditions. We rarely had consistent nutritious meals. Our basic needs, including decent clothing and hygiene products, were often unavailable.
Being exposed to drug activity at such a young age, I became involved with drugs myself. I ended up committing bank fraud by cashing a check for $150 with my name on it, as I had little money and was desperate. This caught up with me, of course, so eventually I entered a rehabilitation program to try to pull myself together and overcome my addictions. When I was released from treatment in 2014, I was placed on probation in a transitional living center and started looking for my first job.
At this point, I was sober and eager to work. Finding a place that would hire me — given my felony conviction, lack of work history, and absence of a car — was really difficult.
After exhausting weeks of job searching, under pressure from my probation officer, I accepted a job at French Cleaners in Coeur d’Alene Idaho, more than 30 miles from where I live in Spokane. Each day, my employer drives from Coeur d’Alene, about 40 minutes each way, to pick me up and drop me off from work.
I am very grateful for the work and for the extra help with transportation, but I am earning a mere $8 per hour and can only schedule 20 hours per week. This income barely covers my rent of $585 per month, on top of which I have to pay for electricity and phone bills, food, and other standard personal expenses.
I have hundreds of dollars in legal financial obligations and probation fees, so I have to make those payments, too. I still have many unmet needs and I don’t see any way how I can get ahead. Many weeks I need to decide between paying my $75 phone bill and eating lunch. Paying for health insurance is out of the question.
I’ve been the front service clerk at French Cleaners for about six months, and I work as hard as I can. I’ve stayed sober and my boss tells me that I’m doing a great job at work, but covering the costs of basic needs is a daily struggle.
I’m trying to make things better for myself. I decided to start attending school at Spokane Community College, but, in order to cover costs, I had to accept an $8,000 student loan. As it is, I’m currently unable to save any money for emergencies and feel like I’m being kept at the bottom by the system. Barely surviving is not quality living.