Every attitude, every gesture has to fight poverty and exclusion. There are many ways to act, regardless of our skills and availability. These messages, these testimonials reflect. Feel free to contribute.

Testimonies are published under the responsibility of the author. They are subject to validation: these will be published only if they comply, in form and substance the spirit of this day as defined in the International Charter for October 17.

 

Message of Activist, Kimberly Cook, October 17, United Nations HQ, New York

Good Afternoon,

My name is Kim Cook. I was pregnant when I first went into a shelter.

At first, the Department of Transitional Assistance couldn’t help me. They said I didn’t need a shelter — I could sleep on someone’s couch. I only got into a shelter when I showed up with my infant son in February and told them: “I have nowhere to go. I am going to be out on the street tonight with a 2-month-old in the middle of winter.”

I have been in a shelter for five years now. They were giving out housing vouchers, but I was not eligible because my last permanent residence wasn’t a Boston address. The shelter I am in now is infested with mice. People break the rules and have cats to control the mice, and the shelter lets them do it.

In the welfare hotel we were in before, there was no kitchen, just a tiny microwave and fridge. Microwaving food is not a healthy way to raise children, but that was the only choice we had. I got a crockpot, but they took it and said they would return it when we moved out because crockpots were not allowed.

It seems like a lot of the system is built to keep people in poverty. For example, there’s a limit to how much money you can save. If you have more than $2,000, your benefits get cut off. But it costs more than $2,000 to get an apartment. You need the first month’s rent and a security deposit. How am I supposed to save for an apartment if I can’t have more than $2,000?

There are assistance programs, but it is not feasible for families to get assistance with all the hurdles they have to jump. Sometimes, I feel like policies are put in place more to protect the system from abuse than to lift people up.

My children are half Native American. We lost our state health insurance for two months because they said I didn’t send in the necessary paperwork to prove that my children are Native American. With Massachusetts’s health insurance, there are no extra benefits for being Native American. Why did I have to get all these documents?

In the end, they listed my kids as white. I got my health insurance back by hiding who they truly are for the bureaucracy. I think it’s partially discrimination, but it’s also a lack of trust.

At the dentist, it was either live with a rotting tooth or pay the $1,500. In the end, I went to a dental school where a student worked on me. They got hands-on training, and I got the tooth removed. When you live in poverty, you have to know those strategies, otherwise you can’t get what you need and access your basic rights.

I know homeless couples who are in the street because they are not legally married and can’t go to a shelter together. I know a 17-year-old teenager who is out on the street because family shelters won’t take males over 17. There are so many faces of humanity being ignored because of poverty.

In Boston, most public bathrooms close at 5pm. After 5, there is nowhere for people living on the street to even wash their hands. There should be access to basic necessities regardless of income or housing status. The homeless community says this is just how it is; the bureaucrats don’t listen to us. We vote, but things aren’t changing the way we want. Why am I settling for that? Why am I not crying out that this is a crime against humanity? That this is degrading?

I want to be part of changing the system.

I volunteer every week with a program that has free lunch and art programs for the homeless. I can always help people in some way. I buy them a cup of coffee when I have the money. They struggle and get down and I say: “It’s going to get better; just keep hanging in there.” The only thing that gets us through each day is that we rely on one another. We are stronger together. Really, we’re a family.

While I live in the shelter, I’m trying to give my kids as normal a life as possible. I might not be able to afford everything, but I want my children to have diverse learning experiences. They know they live in a shelter, but they don’t feel any different than their friends at school. I don’t want them to feel they missed out on something because of our financial situation.

Children are the ones that will carry us into the future, so we need to raise them right. I pride myself on raising my children without discrimination. I teach them that everyone is the same; it doesn’t matter if they look different, if they speak different; everyone is the same. That is a very important lesson that needs to be spread.

There can be discrimination against people who receive public assistance or have government health insurance. There needs to be public education to end this discrimination. It’s not something that happens overnight; it’s not something that’s ingrained in us. It’s something that’s taught. This is a vital step for people to get out of poverty. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it.

This testimony is linked to the event: 
Video: Commemoration at the United Nations Headquarters
Genevieve Tardieu