restricted access 3. The Only Way We’re Going to Survive: Social Ties as a Survival Strategy
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91 3 The Only Way We’re Going to Survive Social Ties as a Survival Strategy It was worth it. It was something different. It was something I was never hearing in my life. It was something that I was feeling like being left out, being homeless  .  .  . they make me think more of me [at KWRU]. . . . I want to help them. ’Cause that’s the only way we going to survive—if we help each other. —Marie, 42, who received temporary housing from KWRU Cate was waiting to meet with her caseworker at the welfare office when KWRU came in to hand out fliers: They came with fliers; a whole bunch of people came with fliers. . . . They denied me my rights in the welfare, they said, “No, come back in three more months,” because according to my income it was too much. So I told one of the girls that gave me a flier, I said, “Listen, I’m having problems , they don’t want to open my welfare and this is my problem.” And she told me, “Okay, Cate, come to one of my meetings.” . . . So I went to one of their meetings, you know, and when I went to one of their meetings , they told me, “Okay, Cate, meet me tomorrow at the welfare office.” [We met there and they] said . . . “Cate, stand right there in the middle.” I was standing in the middle, they went around, round circling me, and then she pulled my hand. . . . They were just saying, you know, we want to talk to the head man there. . . . You know, that’s all they were saying. And then they’d say, “Up and out of poverty now.” And I didn’t know none of the song[s] . . . but I’m sentimental and I was crying. . . . [A KWRU activist] said, “This is the problem. This woman has not had . . . it’s been a month. She’s been out of a job and everything. They came in here and they say she [has to] wait for three more months. How the hell 92 | The Only Way We’re Going to Survive is this woman going to wait for three months for a check when she got three kids, plus she’s losing her place? She was evicted out of the place.” Cate came to KWRU because she was desperate, not because she had become free of the multiple reasons described in chapter 2 that lead poor people to avoid social ties. It’s possible that before she came to KWRU she did not fear that other poor people were dangerous or violent, or have pervasive poverty stigma, tightly held individualism, or fear of reciprocity . But none of those things would have prevented her from taking the hand that reached out to her. The barriers to building social ties that poor people experience do not typically change when participants seek help through KWRU. Yet intense need, coupled with a lack of kin ties able to provide support, leads people like Cate to KWRU for help. When needs are great enough and kin ties are weak, destructive, or absent, poor people in Philadelphia may end up at KWRU where they receive assistance that helps them survive, ranging from aid navigating available services, to food, to a place to live. The help they receive from KWRU can extend beyond these practical supports to include knowledge and tools to see their way through future difficulties and a new perspective on their place in the world. At times it also begins to chip away at the individualistic ideology and break down the avoidance of social ties. This chapter describes KWRU’s public face. It also describes how KWRU study participants learn about KWRU, and the overall distinctions between KWRU participants and non-KWRU participants that make KWRU members willing to ask for help from the organization. It describes the aid they receive, including refuge from homelessness and assistance finding a way not to fall through the holes in the public safety net neoliberalism has left in tatters. KWRU leaders say it is not a social service organization. In fact, it does offer services to those with economically unstable lives, helping people who live with homelessness or housing insecurity to secure permanent housing, and it assists those who are having difficulty getting welfare benefits for which they are eligible .1 The group’s aid to members is a critical way of building organizational strength, and it has transformed participants’ lives. This chapter relies...


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