It has been a very quiet few days and I actually had begun to get a bit lazy. I should know better. It’s always quietest before all chaos occurs.
The day started unusually – I overslept. But at that point I wasn’t worried because I didn’t have much to do. Got up and fed the cat first – patience is NOT one of his virtues! Turned on the computer to check my mail and the obituaries, then decided it was time for a later than usual shower.
In the middle of the shower, I heard the phone ring and someone left a message. Little did I know it was the start of a much busier day than I expected when I awoke.
I got the message after I dressed. It was my Lakota friends calling. They needed me to call back. So I did . . . and the line was busy. Sigh. I checked my ONE Spirit mail – nothing new. I really should reply to the one email sitting there. But I should try calling my friends again first. Busy still. I tried calling another friend – a local one – left a voice mail message. Back to calling the rez. Finally, a ringing phone!
I spoke to my friend’s husband. He was very excited at having been to Bismark, ND to represent Oglala Lakota College, which he attends, as a member of the archery team at the Tribal Colleges National Conference (http://www.uttc.edu/news/story/040111_01.asp). OLC placed third in archery. There were many other competitions (results can be seen here: http://aihec.sittingbull.edu/AIHEC%202011%20Forms/AIHEC%202011%20Winners.pdf) and he was gone for 5 days.
Unfortunately he returned to find that he and his wife were again homeless. They had been living in a trailer that belonged to my friend’s mother. Sadly, on the rez, when you live in the home of a family member, you are at the mercy of his or her moods and whims. The relationship between my friend and her mother has never been a smooth one. This kind of thing had happened before. So they borrowed a truck, packed their things and moved back to his mother’s house (which ironically is where they were living when we first met them).
Even more irony comes when you learn the reason that they were told to move out of the trailer. My friend’s are some of the more responsible people who I have known on the reservation. They try to spend their money carefully and pay their bills. However, many of my friend’s relatives do not. Since her husband is a full-time college student and she cannot find work, their income is very limited. As they pay their bills, they watch my friend’s mother support others in the family who do not pay their bills. So they decided for one month to do the same.
My friend’s mother started telling people immediately that they didn’t pay their bills and told them to leave the trailer she was renting to them – or she would call the police to remove them. My friend, alone without her husband, was broken-hearted. Her mother had done it to her again. You can imagine the scene when her husband arrived back home.
They were calling me to get help with buying some propane for his mother, where they would now live for a while. I checked my funds and called the gas company to get a delivery. Then I made out a check to pay for the gas and got it ready to mail. The company didn’t take credit cards over the phone. But they will deliver the gas before the check arrives.
I had just finished that when I got a call from the woman (I’ll call her Jane but that is not her real name) I wrote about yesterday, the one with whom I was dreading to speak. If you didn’t read yesterday’s post (shame on you), Jane had just delivered a baby 2 weeks ago and now was in the process of being evicted for not paying her rent. You can see why that would not be a conversation to look forward to.
I explained to Jane that ONE Spirit did not pay for rent or utilities. We talked for quite some time and I got a lot of new information. She needs to pay $91 by the end of the month or she will be evicted. $91 is her monthly rent for the one bedroom apartment she shares with her children. She had been on the waiting list for tribal housing but when she got to the top, she was taken off because she owed back rent. The total amount the rent is in arrears is $370.50.
I asked her about her resources. She receives food stamps in the amount of about $400 per month, WIC for the children and TANF (tribal assistance for those with children which requires the parent to work for the tribe) in the amount of $300. She recently bought a car with her tax refund money so she can return to work. It was a good thing she did – she drove herself to the hospital when she delivered her baby 2 weeks ago. She does not receive child support from the father of either child.
She has a 2 year old son and a 2 week old daughter. Since she worked until her due date, she will be paid TANF for the month of April. She says she can get paid for 2 months additional without working, but must then return to work or the tribe will discontinue the assistance. She wants to go back to work as a flagger for road construction crews but would need to use the tribal day care if she did. She is not sure she would make enough to cover the day care for 2 children and still have money left over to pay the bills.
As we talked, I had an idea for a source of assistance – someone I know that might be able to help. I will be seeing that person tonight and see what I can do. I made her no promises, except that I would continue to pray for a solution.
Later I called a new sponsor and discussed her interests and the sponsorship program. I could feel that I was different today when I talked about sponsoring. Maybe it was because I knew that there are some things even sponsors can’t fix or solve. I called a mother on the rez to let her know I had a sponsor for her daughter. I’ll get the paperwork out on that in the morning.
In the meantime, I put Jane on the OKINI list (the program for donors who do not want to develop a relationship with the person being helped) for personal care products like shampoo and toothpaste. Perhaps getting a few things that aren’t covered by food stamps will allow her to shift some of her money to the rent portion of her budget.
I was going to write about the articles I saw today that spoke of cell phone vs landline use in South Dakota and the price of gas in the Rapid City area hitting $4/gallon. Those are two things that impact the lives of people on the reservation – they have to travel so many miles just to get from one part of the rez to another and they are coming to depend on cell phones in spite of the fact that South Dakota overall uses landlines more than cell phones. But those phone calls took my attention away from the “smaller” problems and turned it to the really big ones.
So the theme of my day turned into homelessness and potential homelessness. It is one of the hardest things on the reservation for so many people who do not have homes of their own and must rely on relatives to give them a roof over their heads. The official statistics of homelessness on the reservation do not reflect the true number of truly homeless people. I think many of the other problems on the rez stem in good part from overcrowding in the homes of those who are lucky enough to have their own home (the other big source of the problems is the lack of available jobs).
This is one BIG problem that I cannot solve. All I can do is try to help a couple of people stay afloat until someone else finds that solution.