Thursday, July 24, 2008

She found a job. Now, how can she get to it?

JOIN has been supporting Josie Del Gato for a number of years. At 21 years old, she has regularly impressed us with her resourcefulness and incredible capacity to navigate the bizarre world of social service resources. Despite these gifts, Josie and her two year old son Franklin continued to struggle financially. She had been tied to the state welfare system and all its mandates, and didn't have much work experience to refer to with other employers. Josie and I spent alot of time filling out online applications and looking at craigslists for various jobs. Nothing materialized.

Then, one day Josie calls me about a job at the airport. She found an ad in the newspaper for baggage handler. I bring her and Franklin to PDX, and Josie fills out the application paperwork while Franklin and I run around the food court, greeting all the FTA staff. Two days later, Josie calls me thrilled that she was hired! While the pay rate was surprisingly low for such an important job, Josie's excitement was overwhelming. She arranges childcare and I make sure she has enough bus tickets to get to the airport, and she begins her training period.

The weeklong training flies by, and she gets her regular schedule for the remainder of her 90 day probationary period - Wednesday through Sunday 5am to 1:30pm.

5:00 am? Ouch!! Despite the wonderful transportation resources to and from PDX, there is no reliable or affordable way to get to the airport at that time of day, especially from her home in east Gresham.

The practical solution would be for Josie to have her own transportation... a car. Not only would this help her get to and from work, but it would provide greater independence in running errands, getting Franklin to day care or preschool, and so on. While I hate to admit it, a car is vital to the lives of many families (including my own).

I broach the idea of buying Josie a car with my coworkers. It seems like I'm the only one holding any hesitation. Can I justify investing that much in someone? What happens if Josie loses the job? What if she can't afford to keep the car up? What if other of JOIN's friends need a car... will we be setting a precident?

In the end, these concerns do not outweigh the fact that Josie is finding her own path to housing stability, and JOIN should do what we can to support her efforts. And, while I am procrastinating in my decision, Josie is sleeping overnight at the airport in order to make sure she can get to work on time. That's enough to get me out of the navelgazing and onto the car lot.

With some quick searching, Josie and I find a mid-90s Buick that appears in reasonable shape. The dealer seems willing to cut us a deal given her situation, and in a matter of three days, Josie owns her own car. She drives to work for the first time the next day.

Of course, owning a car is not the solution to all of Josie's struggles. She must now calculate gas and insurance into her limited budget. Franklin's child care expenses will increase as she further separates herself from the welfare entitlements she has received. And, unfortunately, she has already had to invest in some car repairs. Despite these continued challenges, Josie's optimism continues to carry her towards the long path out of poverty, and JOIN will continue to be there for her when we're needed.