Poverty and Childhood

This month’s blog is written by the son of one of our staff members, Jessica. Jessica and her son Dwayne were residents at Saint John’s when Dwayne was just a young boy. Today, Jessica is employed at Saint John’s full-time as a Client Services Coordinator and Dwayne is a student at Sierra College. As I’m sure you’ll see in the blog, Dwayne captures the struggles that he and his mom experienced as well as the power that comes from truly breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence and forging a new life.

By Dwayne Simmons

Section A

My name is Dwayne Amos Simmons. I was born on December 19, 2001 to a single mother. For the first four years of my life my mom and I struggled to find a safe place to sleep. We did not have any money; we barely had enough to eat. My mom did not have a lot of family in the area or many people she could go to for help. We were living out of motel rooms in different areas around Los Angeles.

It wasn’t until much later that my mom told me that the reason for the constant moving was because she was trying to get away from my biological father. He was abusive and did not care to be a father. One night he found us and physically hurt her. After that we went to stay at a safe house. The staff there told us about a shelter in Sacramento that helped women and children. We relocated to Sacramento from Los Angeles and got accepted into this shelter.

The move to Sacramento marked the beginning to our path to stability. After living at the shelter for a few months we moved on to transitional housing for six months. Then, finally we moved into a place of our own with the assistance of Section 8 housing vouchers. We lived there for six years so I was able to complete elementary school without changing schools. We still struggled financially but we were no longer homeless.

I realize that my life could have turned out very different had it not been for institutions and programs in place to help families like mine. We relied on assistance from the communities and churches in the areas we lived. Assistance for single-parent families is not a given. But since California policy leans towards democratic socialism there are so many programs and resources for people in poverty. There is also solidarity between the families that go through these experiences. And that solidarity becomes a community. These communities teach us, the next generation, important values like that of having compassion and always being willing to help others. I don’t believe that those values are as important in communities that have not gone without basic needs.

Sometimes I did feel bad that I was not part of a nuclear family with a mother and a father. When I started to play football this was a lot harder because I felt different from my teammates. My father passed away sometime after we left Los Angeles. I sometimes wonder how things would have been. But luckily, I had coaches and community members that served as role models and helped fill that role.

Section B

I think growing up in poverty has shaped me as a person. I am more aware of certain issues and have more empathy and compassion than a lot of my peers. My mom currently works for the shelter that changed our lives. She has been there for many years. She teaches me a lot about how societal issues such as drug and alcohol dependence, domestic violence, and mental health issues can lead families to homelessness.

The rising cost of living in California is making the issue of homelessness even more dire. Because I am aware of my mom’s struggles, I try to help her out as much as I can. I work and try to cover my expenses. My mom hopes for a better future for me. She wants me to escape the cycle of poverty by obtaining a college degree. It is hard to work and take college classes. But it is important to me that I do not let my mom down. I also want to prove to peers that someone with my past can succeed in life.

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