Archive for the ‘Phone’ Category

ABC NEWS Has Come Through For Pine Ridge

Over a year ago, I was contacted by a researcher/producer for ABC News.  She had found one of my blog entries (in which I was chastising ABC for not paying attention to the disasters in the west, especially on the reservations).  She told me they were working on a Diane Sawyer prime time special in her “A Hidden America” series.  The prior one had been on life in Appalachia.  This time they were planning to profile Pine Ridge Reservation.

Those of you who have been reading my blog will know that there is not much that fires up my hopefully righteous passion more than talking about life on Pine Ridge Reservation.  So talk we did, for almost an hour.  And we emailed – resources that they might find helpful.

I had heard that Diane Sawyer was out on the rez this past summer when I was there (no, we didn’t happen to cross paths traveling the approximately 2 million acres on the rez.  But I did here that she went up to KILI Radio one of the days I was there.  Try to keep that quiet when you’re talking to DJ’s.

I am giving you a link to the promo for the show.  Please, if you have ever enjoyed or been moved by anything I have written, I implore you to watch the 20/20 program on Friday at 10 PM.  See with your own eyes the good and the bad of Pine Ridge.  You may not find it possible but this place does exist.  I have been there and I suspect they will not tell you the worst story nor show you the poorest homes.  But it will still be worse than you expect.  After all, the living conditions on Pine Ridge rival those in Haiti and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge rivals that of Burundi.

I work for an organization that works to support self-sufficiency – not an easy thing to have on Pine Ridge.  Many of us work to keep the dam from breaking by trying to improve the life of one person at a time.  The big picture can be truly overwhelming.

If you can’t watch the show when it airs, record it or have a friend record it for you.

I will be honest.  I prayed for someone with greater reach than mine to focus attention on the needs of Pine Ridge.  I did not know (or care) who it would be.  I am grateful to ABC News because I know that if more people see the conditions, they will be moved to respond.  I believe in the American people and I know in my heart that things can improve.  I do not have the answers but I know it can be done.

Thank YOU for helping them to raise awareness.  You can do that by sharing this blog post with everyone you know.

Oh yes, here’s the link to the promo:  http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/hidden-america-children-plains-14708439#.TpOhj9LOE2E.facebook


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Okay, technically Labor Day is tomorrow.  But it is Labor Day weekend, the final big holiday of the “summer season.”  And what am I doing?  Laboring!!  I guess I can at least be grateful it isn’t the kind of labor that comes with a baby at the end – been there, done that.  But yes, I am hard at work for the past 2 days.  I will be tomorrow as well.

What am I doing to take up all this time?  As usual, I am calling the rez.  Specifically, I am calling as many of the 44 households who were to receive food orders last weekend in the 2 areas I serve to determine whether the food was delivered or not, whether it was in good condition when it arrived and if there were any other problems with the delivery.

I had tried to meet with the food delivery volunteers for my areas when I was out visiting my Lakota friends a couple of weeks ago.  We were never able to connect (phone tag, even on the rez!).

You would think this would be an easy task.  You would be wrong.

I have not be able to reach 25% of the people on the list because their phones have been disconnected or are “no longer a working number.”  Do 25% of the folks you try to call lose their phone numbers because they can’t pay their bills?  I doubt it.

Another 25% are not reachable for a variety of reasons:  no one is home; they have never set up the voicemail box; the box is full; they don’t have a voice mail box; they are “not available” which can be code for “they have no signal where they are” or “they’ve turned off the phone to save power.”

There is a small percent, perhaps 10%, in which someone answers the phone but the person I ask for is not there.  So I try to check anyway, “Do you know if the food was delivered last Sunday?”  Nope, no idea.  It always puzzles me.  You are obviously at home enough to answer the phone for someone else but you don’t know if they got food.  (Pausing to shrug my shoulders – I know how loose home life can be on Pine Ridge).

Now we come to the rest, the calls where I actually reach the person I am trying to call.  It should be a simple task, a few quick questions.

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you will know there is no such thing as a “simple task” when it comes to the rez.  There are the people who want to know when they will get a sponsor.  Answer:  I don’t know.  The economy is bad, there a more natural disasters than we can keep up with and more people are torn among many places to be philanthropic.

Next question:  Can you give my sponsor a message?  Answer:  Absolutely!  A related question:  Do you know why I haven’t heard from my sponsor in “x” number of days, weeks, months?  Answer:  No, but I will try to find out.

Most people do not respond to the East Coast direct manner of completing this task.  They want to chat a bit, tell you about their lives and what’s been happening around the rez.  It takes time.  It’s probably something of a blessing in disguise that I can’t reach everyone.  If I did, with the average call lasting at least 20 minutes, I would have been on the phone for at least 15 hours!  Talk about labor!!

There are occasionally calls that take longer than the 20 minute average.  Like the call I made yesterday when I connected with a grandmother who had not received her food delivery.  Not a good thing, in and of itself.  But she proceeded to tell me about her 5 year old grandson who is just starting kindergarten.  He had no shoes that fit.  He needed school clothes.

She told me she had just been diagnosed with diabetes on top of her problems with asthma.  She thinks (and I suspect she is right) that the black mold in her home is responsible for the asthma problems.

She went on to tell me more about the house.  The heating vents are not in the holes where the heat comes out.  When the housing authority folks came over to fix them, the “fix” they proposed was to duct tape them in.  Okay.  She has so much trouble heating the home in the winter that she uses her oven for heat.

She moved on to her finances.  She is on Social Security and receives about $600 per month.  She must pay for everything out of that money.  She gets no support except for food stamps for her grandson.  That means she must pay for electricity, heat, clothing, cleaning supplies, phone, cable and the inevitable food and personal hygiene supplies not covered by the food stamps.  She told me her electric bill is around $250 per month and the cable is $50 per month.  She confided that the bundle – cable, internet and phone – was $113 per month, way more than she could afford.

With half her income used up by just 2 items, you can see how a food delivery that did not appear would be a disaster.  She is very worried.

I have one more day to complete this task.  Then I will send a report to the persons who direct the food program with the information I have gleaned.

But there will be no rest from my labors.  There is always something to be done for the rez.


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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.

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I spoke with a woman on Pine Ridge Reservation today.  She has recently received a sponsor and needed some information.  She also advised me that she is trying to get her landline phone reinstalled because of the cell phone merger.

I asked why that would make a difference to her.  She told me that most of the rez originally had Verizon with flat rate plans, unlimited calls.  Then Verizon customers in that area were “bought out” by Alltel.

Now a merger has taken place between Alltel and A T & T.  According to the information I have located subsequent to our conversation, the contracts were supposed to remain unchanged for a year.  However, she told me that people on the rez had been told that they had to switch over.  She said that A T & T began shutting off extra services first – e.g. caller ID.  Then she said they were told that they must pay any outstanding bills immediately or have the phone service shut off.  That is being done, which may explain why I am having trouble reaching so many people recently.  She told me they were told that, once any outstanding bills were paid, they would then be told if they can obtain a new phone and service.

As I’ve indicated before, in the winter on the reservation, heat and food often win over paying for phone or even electric bills.  Many, if not most, of the residents have gone to cell phones rather than landlines.  Now they will be without any service for some time.  They will either have to find the money to pay outstanding bills or to pay for the installation of a “new” landline.  It’s an untenable situation either way.

All of this, whether legal or not and whether good business strategy or not, really frosts my butt.  First of all, we are not talking about people who are extremely sophisticated in either of those areas.  But secondly, the phone is an important means of keeping in contact with others on a reservation of 2 million acres.  It can mean the difference between life and death literally.

I have nothing to go on for my next statement except my gut instinct.  It’s usually fairly reliable, though.

I suspect that cell service, with unlimited minutes and long distance, was heavily marketed with discount plans to the residents of Pine Ridge, with the intention of convincing everyone that there was no longer a need for a landline.  Obviously it is good business strategy for wireless providers to convince you that your landline is no longer necessary.  But what is good for a company may not be good for the consumer.  We’ve all heard that caveat “Buyer beware.”  I’m not so sure the trusting people of the rez had all heard of this however.

So I wonder how many will opt back for landlines when they can afford to have them reinstalled,  how many will try to maintain a cell phone plan and how many will just go without.

It sure won’t make it any easier to reach people on the rez!

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My answer to that question is equivocal.  If I wasn’t doing the tasks I do, perhaps.  If I didn’t travel, maybe.  But the phone has become a safety net of sorts for me.  I want to have one available in case of emergencies.  I’m not personally someone who wants to chat with people all day, especially about things that I tend to view as trivial (fashion, recipes, celebrities).  But I do want to be able to call the fire department if the fire in the frying pan gets out of control when I burn dinner.

However, with the work I do, I am on the phone a lot – and most of it is not local.  I am often talking to people on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as well as sponsors in every state you can imagine.  I even get to chat with co-workers in England and Norway!  So the phone is important.

But, I asked myself today, is it more important than heat or food?  You may think that an odd question, but I ran into an obstacle today that is directly related to the question.

I actually have been blessed to have several sponsors waiting to be matched at the same time.  In order to do that, I speak to the sponsor, then call several families on the rez to see which one I think will be a better match for the sponsor.  Today, I called several people to try to do just that.  Every call was met with one of these responses:

“We’re sorry but 605-555-5555 has been disconnected.  Please check the number and try your call again.”

“The number you have called is not a working number.  Please check the number and try your call again.”

“The (company name) customer is not available.  Please try your call later.”

I called the social service office in the area that I work in and left the names of people I need to reach.   Someone will get back to me with the new numbers – soon I hope.  I really need to get those sponsors connected.  I thought the families I tried to call would be excellent matches.  If I don’t get updated phone numbers, I may have to go back to the drawing board.

So why suddenly am I having so much trouble reaching people on the reservation?

Actually, it isn’t unusual to have phone numbers changed from time to time, when the bill can’t be paid.  But this was certainly a higher frequency than usual.  Why was that?

The answer actually occurred to me when I was speaking with my contact at the office on the reservation.  We were talking about the weather.  She said it was starting to get really cold on the rez and they had just that week opened their fuel assistance program.

And it hit me!!

Cold weather = increased use of propane and/or electricity for heat = more money spent on fuel costs


80% unemployment + government assistance = very little money.


Very little money – grocery bills – money for heat/electricity – phone bill = a deficit budget.

Now the government can exist on a deficit budget because they can print money.  (The drawbacks of that will be left for others to worry about.)  If you and I try to print money, however, the government gets downright cranky about it!  So, what are we to do?

We have to make decisions based on our priorities.

What is more important?

Food?  We may get food stamps but they expect us to feed each person on about $1 per meal.  Anyone with half a brain (government officials excluded) knows that’s impossible.  I might let myself go hungry (losing weight wouldn’t be a bad idea) but I refuse to let my children to hungry.  So I will spend what I need to for the food basics.

Electricity?  We might be able to do that in the summertime but not in the winter.  The bill gets too high, it’s true.  But what can be done about that?  It gets dark about 4:25 PM now and in 4:42 PM in mid-January.  How will the children do their homework in the dark?  There isn’t much for kids to do here in the winter.  How will I entertain them on the weekend without the DVD player?  How will I use the electric heaters we need to supplement the propane so we don’t run out.  If I don’t have propane, we’ll freeze.

Propane?  We’d probably let the electric go first!  Propane is heat.  Propane is also for cooking meals.  It’s cold enough in here, even with the heat on.  There’s no insulation in the walls and there are a lot of drafts.  No storm windows – unless you count the plastic over the window.  The mattresses are on the floor and it gets really cold down there.  We don’t have enough blankets for the kids and I refuse to let them freeze.

Phone?  It’s good to be able to talk to friends and share troubles.  But I guess I could live without that.  I might need to call the fire department.  Wait, why bother?  The house will burn down by the time they get here anyway!  Ambulance, maybe?  I could have one of the kids run to a neighbor for that.

Well, I guess that answers my question, doesn’t it?

If you live on Pine Ridge Reservation, the phone comes in at the bottom of the list.

So I guess while our kids all have their own cell phones and some folks have more than one, it is a country of inequality when it comes to phones.  Some people in this country don’t have phones because they think basic existence is more important than chatting about which celebrity is in rehab.

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