By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Two years later, Joanie found a new boyfriend and got pregnant again. Father number two seemed responsible enough when she met him, but he split soon after the baby was born. Her son turned out to be a difficult, sickly boy who gave baby sitters a hard time. So, although she applied for jobs, mostly she found it easier to stay home, working odd housecleaning gigs that paid under the table, rather than pay for child care and lose her free Medi-Cal.
And the years drifted by. "I figured I'd wait till the kids were grown, then I'd find me a real job," she says. However, when her son turned 16 and moved out, she was 38 with no skills, no diploma and no real employment record. "I'd apply for all these jobs," she says, "and nobody even called me for an interview." Finally, in 1993, she landed a temporary housekeeping position at Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital. "I just loved going in every day. When you're on assistance, people talk to you like you got a tail," she says, "but work gives you" -- she searches for the word -- "dignity."
When the Martin Luther King employment ended after a year, Joanie couldn't find other work: "I'd apply and never hear anything." After a while, she says, the constant rejection got to her. "I'd cry and cry and think, 'What's wrong? Don't I look right? Aren't I smart enough?' I guess you could say I lost my determination." She forces an overbright smile. "But now I've got my determination back," she says. "Prayer has helped a lot. I just tell myself, 'Joanie, the Lord is not going to let you be out on the street.'"
THERE IS A DISCOUNT CLOTHING STORE NEAR THE check-cashing facility, and Joanie decides she wants to browse a bit after picking up her check. "It used to be GR gave us $55.56 every six months as a clothing allowance. But now they broke it down, and $9 of our $221 monthly check is supposed to be for clothes," she says as she leafs through a standing rack of cotton interlock pants with matching T-shirt tops.
Ever since she learned to sew in seventh-grade home-ec class, and found she had a knack for it, Joanie has made most of her own clothes. Others she gets at Goodwill. "But I choose real good things, nice fabrics, and you can't even tell." Today, however, she splurges and buys two brand-new pantsuits at $8.99 apiece, one in pink, the other in gray. The total with tax is $19.46. "I had my eye on these for three months, and the price has just come down," she says. The purchase makes her feel happy and expansive. "I'm going to wear these on job interviews. You've got to look good if you want an employer to take you serious. I take good care of my clothes," she says. "Just because I'm on GR doesn't mean I have to look like a tramp." She tells about a GR worker who mouthed off to her regarding her neat appearance. "'You don't look like you're on welfare.'" Joanie imitates the worker's sarcastic tone, then waggles her head from side to side with righteous disgust. "Mmmm, mmmm, mmm!" she says. "I told that man off, yes I did! I told him, 'I'm supposed to look like a street person, right? Well, you don't know a thing about me, and don't think you do!'"
Two doors down from the clothing boutique is a 99-cent store where Joanie routinely buys personal items like skin cream and shampoo, plus other sundries such as aluminum foil and laundry soap. "I can stretch everything to the limit, even toothpaste," she says as she scoots through the aisles surveying the merchandise with an appraising eye. At the register, her total is $12.43. "The only thing that gets thrown away at my house is the wrapper."
Later that day, back in her apartment, Joanie distributes her remaining cash among several hiding places. Fifty dollars goes in a shoebox in her closet. "This is money I am going to try to save," she says. She tucks a $5 bill in her little metal kitchen box along with four new bus tokens and four quarters, "For an emergency." The final $32 she puts in her wallet -- spending cash for the rest of the month. Then she places the money orders in their respective envelopes. "Usually my phone bill is only $10," she says. "It's high this month because I've been calling different places out of my area looking for a job."
JOANIE IS AT THE HIGH END OF GR RECIPIENTS IN THAT she has her own place -- a $66-a-month HUD-subsidized wonder she managed to snag two years ago. Even for those who qualify for housing assistance, finding a subsidized apartment can be next to impossible. But Joanie got lucky. A friend gave her a tip about an apartment building, a three-story gray stucco structure located on a ã quiet east Hollywood side street, and she got the call to move in only six months after she signed up. Before that, she'd bounced around between a cheap motel where, she says, "bad stuff" goes on every night, and her mother's place. "But I'm too old and independent to live with my mother," she says. "All we did was fight."
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