There’s a belief out there that poverty is something, someone, somehow deserves. They haven’t worked hard enough, they didn’t study properly, they made bad decisions. Certain people want to believe this instead of having to confront the idea that they themselves could be one step away from skipping meals and medications. From going from home to homeless. I’ve lived a lifetime of it and the only time I could afford all the basics was with the covid supplement. We don’t want to believe that kids in Australia go hungry but they do. People also tend to blame the parents with comments like “What were they spending their money on?”
A homeless woman in Brisbane in 2017. There is no sense in Pentecostal economics of a Jesus Christ who was on the side of the poor and the oppressed. Dan Peled/AAP – Source
When I was 11 my dad left. We lived in poverty before that but I don’t even think that prepared me for the poverty that was to come. It was just mum and I. She was a disabled pensioner and we lived in public housing – I guess kind of like Albanese and his mum. Dad had taken his income away and even though he spent a lot on alcohol and bets, the little bit he did contribute was no longer available. He also left my mother deeply in debt. So much so, there were countless court dates from debt collectors that she had to attend and promise to pay certain amounts to each one each fortnight.
On paydays after school she would send me with a list of food to buy at the local supermarket. If she was up to it she would come with me but she was also in a lot of pain and by the end of the first week supplies were low and money was lower. I’d often go to school with no food and if the teacher asked me where my lunch was I’d lie and say “i ate it at lunch”. I was so scared that my mum would get in trouble that I felt a lie was the only way to protect her. I was petrified of family and youth services taking me away from the only person I had left.
Mum would try. She would make pea and ham soup and as it would start to run low she would top it up with more split peas and water. It would last us a couple of days and sometimes we would get help from charities, but this was rare because mum couldn’t always leave the house because of her disabilities. Sometimes Vinnie’s would attend and give us food vouchers. Id take the day off school and catch a bus to Elizabeth Down’s to the one supermarket that would honour them. I always felt shame and more than once I miscounted and had to put items back in front of people waiting to be served.
In November 1993 I turned 12. I would start high school the next year and as Christmas approached I was excited because mum had planned to put some money away for a Christmas dinner. I no longer really cared about presents, I just wanted the food, About two weeks before Christmas I came home to mum sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor crying. Surrounded by the little food we had. The fridge/freezer was gone and so was the TV and washing machine. They had been repossessed after my dad who had agreed to pay for them (after mum let him keep the car that was in her name) chose not to. I wasn’t too worried about the TV at that time, as I preferred to read anything I could get my hands on.
|Hughie Designed and sold by Artistaffame|
Mum got the phone number of a man who refurbished old fridges and sold them cheaply. I pushed her wheelchair to the phone box and when she hung up she had a half smile on her face. He had a fridge for $100.00. I knew that also meant no Christmas dinner as mum couldn’t afford both and the fridge took priority.
On the day the fridge was to be delivered we watched as the delivery truck pulled up and he unloaded it and put it where the old fridge once stood. Mum went to hand him the $100.00 and he replied with “Nah boss said to tell you Merry Christmas” while refusing to take the money. That one moment of kindness saved Christmas and has forever stayed burned into my memory. A few weeks later we managed to get an old washing machine with an actual wringer on top. I had never seen something so old but mum assured me it was better than washing our clothes in the shower.
I missed a lot of high school due to mum’s disabilities and other times because I’d not eaten for a couple of days, I would feel too weak as we would wait for payday. Other times it was because I had nothing except toilet paper to use for my period. I was petrified other kids at my school would find out, so I’d stay home until my period stopped or payday would come. Mum would write notes that I had been sick.
In school I got in trouble a lot for not focusing on the work. I’d make jokes and make my friends laugh instead because I couldn’t concentrate on anything except the feelings of hunger that consumed me and how at lunch time I would get something. I still remember my teacher for Society and Environment writing in big red letters under the one sentence I had written, “MORE WORK NEEDED TO SHOW FOR A 45 MINUTE LESSON“
I did such a good job of hiding the fact we were in deep poverty I don’t even think my teachers ever realised. If I didn’t have money for an excursion I would say it was dumb and I didn’t want to go. I’d get to stay behind with another class. If other kids asked why I wasn’t eating I’d tell them I was on a diet (sadly this worked way too well at an all girl’s school). The only one who I think knew was the canteen lady because as soon as I got the courage to ask to get a sandwich on credit she agreed.
Each day she would offer me the marked down foods that didn’t sell in the lunch time rush. So 10 minutes before the bell went to go back to class i would be waiting outside the canteen with a group of other girls. We never spoke about the fact we were there because our parents couldn’t afford to feed us but instead we would chat and act like what we were doing was completely normal.
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I have no doubt there’s still kids in Australia who are going without and nobody knows because they “ate their lunch at recess” or they are “On a diet” too embarrassed to go to breakfast club and too scared to admit that they are hungry in case their parents get in trouble. For all these programs to feed kids there’s still the kids that fall through the cracks.
|How do we fix it?|
|We raise welfare payments and pull their parents and them out of poverty.|
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Editor’s note – I inserted the images into Melissa’s article – so if you must – blame me for the blatant marketing of her talent as a writer and artist
Original article here
Melissa works with the Anti Poverty Centre
So I decided to write more about being in poverty as a kid and how I and other kids slip through the cracks https://t.co/gzmiL5jytc
— melissa (@ArtistAffame) April 1, 2022