I visited an asthmatic client with my coworker Ericka. We were there to educate her on how to better control her symptoms, provide her with supplies and whatever referrals for services we could offer. The client was a middle-aged black woman who had casually said she needed help with housing over the phone. When we walked into the building, the stench of mold permeated through the carpet and walls.
We later learned she had been duped into accepting an agreement with her landlord to be the supervisor of the place for cheap rent. She took it in desperation while trying clamber her way out of public housing. It was a multifamily unit with multiple floors but had no other residents, and a half-dozen rooms were empty. The catch was that he had essentially off-shored the responsibility for a building that was rotten and diseased–a pit that should have been condemned, not lived in. We were told the roof leaked in torrents. Roaches scattered as we walked through rooms, ants clambered on the stove, and later on I found out the basement floor was a flooded lake, with the water’s surface nesting a sickly white carpet of fungus.
On top of all this, the client dealt with her own asthma, took care of a terminally ill mother upstate and the two kids and infant granddaughter she lived with on the top floor of the building. In spite of all this, during our talk we found she persevered as best as she could: she had lost 50 lbs by changing her diet after a particularly bad asthma attack, she kept her room religiously clean to prevent anything that might trigger another attack and was saving money. Her son was her pride-and-joy Straight-A student, with promising scholarships being offered in basketball and she was coaching him to a free ride to college. She thanked God every day and counted her blessings, which she said were enough.
Ericka would put her in touch with a housing service. She’d probably be able to get out of there in a couple months.
On the train ride back, we sat in numb silence and I thought about her strength and resilience. I thought that there was nothing, no struggle, I couldn’t move myself past after seeing what she did. I’d continue to do what I could to better myself. To find more time and energy to scream, shout, and rail against the world, until it bent to serve the rest of us.
Later that night, Trump won the election.