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
Joanie scans the eight or so listings under the heading of housekeeping and jots down a few telephone numbers. "The trouble is, they leave the same postings on the board for a long time, so you don't know if those jobs have been filled or not," she says. "And even if they aren't filled, there's sometimes 100 people going for one position." Indeed, the most recent listing is dated March 28, two weeks earlier. "Domestics is my field," says Joanie. "I really like it, especially housekeeping in a hospital." Her voice drops to a sad, confiding tone. "Of course I still really, really wish I could've been a police officer. I keep thinking about sometime taking the written test for the LAPD -- you know, just to see if I could pass. I really blew it when I never got my high school diploma. I'm going to get it someday -- and not the GED either, the real thing. You just wait and see if I don't."
As she leaves the building, Joanie runs into a friend, Gloria, who is also going up to look at the domestics positions. Gloria tells Joanie she has just interviewed for a housecleaning job at California Hospital, a position that Joanie applied for last month. "I don't know how the interview went," says Gloria, "if they liked me or anything. But you should call. I mean you got to be persistent, right? If you're persistent, then eventually you got to get lucky." Joanie nods. "Persistence is the key."
On the way back home on the bus, Joanie gets a nosebleed. "It happens when my blood pressure goes up," she says as she dabs at her reddened nose. "I think I'm just so stressed because I want a job. My mom says I worry too much. And I tell her, 'You don't understand. You have an income for the rest of your life. I'm gonna be cut off.'"
Joanie is friendly with her three sisters and four brothers, but her mother, who is on disability because of two serious strokes, is the mainstay of her emotional support. Joanie talks to her two or three times a day, in part, she says, because her mom's speaking ability was severely compromised by the strokes, and she wants to make her practice. "My mom's embarrassed about how she sounds," Joanie says, "but I understand her just fine. She keeps tellin' me I should get married. And I always tell her, 'I can be poor on my own.' I don't need a man to help me do it, layin' around and eatin' up all my food, hollering and screaming 'cause it's all gone. 'No, Mom,' I tell her. 'What I need is a job.'"
IT'S LUNCH TIME WHEN JOANIE GETS HOME. SHE immediately calls the personnel office at California Hospital and leaves a message that she would like to come in for an interview. By the end of the day no one has called back, but her mood is roseate just from the possibility. She also has an update on the Harbor Hospital situation. "My girlfriend called and told me that on Monday, she's going to pick me up and we're going to go to the personnel office together and sign me up."
When, by the next afternoon, no one from California Hospital has returned her call, Joanie's confidence swings downward again. She makes a foray to a nearby convenience store and spends $5 on toilet tissue, peroxide and sanitary napkins, and converts $20 of her remaining cash to quarters. "So I know everything will be washed for the next month." In the evening, she is restless and contemplates spending $20 to get her hair done at a local beauty college. "My hair's lookin' kind of ratty, and if one of the job interviews comes through, I want to look good," she says. But with such nickel-and-dime purchases as ice cream for her granddaughter, that would bring her cash down to $35 for the rest of the month. So reluctantly she decides against the hair appointment. "If I just save that money and add another $12 to it, I can pay my rent a month ahead. I think that's a better use of my money," she says.
Getting ahead on her rent is a running theme for Joanie. If she loses this apartment, the next step down would be her mom again or a shelter. "See, I know I'll get a job," she says, repeating what is clearly her favorite comforting mantra. "But I want to have the rent a few months ahead, come November. You know, just in case."
Statistically speaking, her precautions are wise. When the plan for this year's terminations was first formulated, the Los Angeles Coalition To End Hunger and Homelessness asked UCLA's School of Public Policy and Social Research to conduct a study examining the impact of a sudden loss of benefits for GR recipients. The results, published last April, indicated to no one's surprise that people did very poorly: 72 percent reported increased hunger; 49 percent of those studied dropped from at least two meals a day to fewer than two on most days; 43 percent were no longer able to buy and prepare their own food but had to depend upon such sources as shelters and food kitchens; 38 percent could no longer afford transportation, including buses; 68 percent had a negative change in their housing arrangement; homelessness more than doubled; and 18 percent admitted to turning to illegal activities such as drug dealing, theft and prostitution. Seven percent fewer people searched for jobs once they were off assistance.
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