October 9, 2013

Local woman uses alliance to take sting out of poverty

Jessica Lane, Staff Writer,
The Express-Star


It's hard to typecast poverty. 

"When you look at the outside of someone's home, you don't know if they have electricity or water," Barbara Higgins, Stepping Stones Alliance Director, said. 

Stepping Stones is an organization Chickasha which helps those affected by poverty locate resources and improve their lives. 

But whether poverty means living in a house without water or homeless under a bridge, poverty comes with a unique set of challenges. 

And it can happen to anyone. Higgins has written a series of articles for the Stepping Stones newsletter called "Just Imagine" that aims to put the reader in the position of someone who has found themselves in crisis such as homelessness, addiction or abuse. 

One story in particular demonstrates how a total life upheaval can happen. The story begins with a mother–and very recent widow–sitting in her car in a hospital parking lot with her children in the back seat. The family was on a move across the country where "Dad" had a new job waiting. Along the way, he died in the hospital of a heart attack. Hospital bills have eaten up funds, moving expense would no longer be covered by the new employer and the family is in a strange town with no relatives or friends close by. 

"It will be tomorrow before we can pick up the urn of ashes. We may not know where we are going or how we are going to get there, but we will all still be together. That thought, along with days of no sleep and worry, brogans on tears of fatigue and despair. 'What am I going to do?' you think." 

Higgins said that it is a misconception that people are poor because they are lazy or stupid, but poverty may have an impact on the brain's ability to function. 

Higgins cited an article based on a August 2013 study by Princeton, Harvard and Warwick that showed the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points. This, Higgins said, is the equivalent of losing a night's sleep or chronic alcoholism in normal adults. 

The typical diet of those who live in poverty also have an impact on the brain's ability to function. 

Not enough protein–proteins being the building blocks of the body–and not enough fresh fruits and vegetables make it difficult to function, Higgins said. 

"You can't live on mac n' cheese all the time–especially when it's not real cheese," Higgins said. 

Poverty can also happen to people who have worked all their lives.

"People who live in poverty haven't necessarily always been in poverty," Higgins said. 

 If the person's income was not sufficient to save or a savings program was not offered by the employer, retirement can mean a significant loss of funds, Higgins said. 

"People who only live on social security often live at or below the poverty level."

To afford medications, this means that some retired elderly live off of peanut butter sandwiches on day old bread and take half doses or even skip doses. If the medicine is taken for heart problems, for example, this means the organ fails faster, Higgins said. 

"Survival is hard work," Higgins said. "People don't understand that [poverty] one of those things that is harder to get out of than it is to get into."