This morning, I made an attempt to do what needs to be done. I straightened my shoulders, lifted my chin, swallowed my pride and went down to the Denver Department of Human Services to officially apply for food, medical and cash assistance. It was a huge step down a road I never thought I’d go. I never saw myself applying for food stamps or government assistance. I went to school, I pursued a degree in technology, I got a good job and was on the path of having a successful career. And then life happened. A baby. Divorce. Debt. Moving. Unemployment. The last two years of my life have been non-stop change and struggle. Walking through the doors of the Department of Human Services today was just one more struggle.
I won’t lie. It wasn’t easy AT ALL!!! I parked the car and sat in it for a few minutes to compose myself. Then I walked towards the doors and felt the weight of society weighing heavier and heavier on me. It was strange. I understood the logistics. I was going to apply to receive help to keep a home for my daughter. I was only applying for assistance from the funds that I had been paying taxes to fill as well as the many donations I’d given throughout the years. After all, this assistance is there for times just like this… when it’s hard.
But I walked through that door and stood stunned. The amount of people already there at 7:45 am was mind numbing. Immediately I was assaulted by noise and signs pointing to different departments while people milled in every direction. Employees came out of doors and yelled names. Children laughed, screamed and cried. Some parents look tired. Some looked bored. Some just ignored their children completely. Some children HAD children. The initial entry was actually just a bit much for me and I had to turn around and walk back out and look to the sky.
As I stood outside, I watched the wind blow thick fluffy clouds in the sky and rip contrails to shreds. I just couldn’t believe I was here. That I was now part of the economic class that NEEDS assistance to live in today’s urban environment. But I am. A single mom. I got to do what I got to do. So I turned around and walked back through the doors. I followed the arrow pointing the way towards the Food Assistance area and stood in line behind a woman with three children and tried to maintain my conviction.
I stood in line for 30 minutes mentally shoring up my pride and swallowing it before finally moving up to the counter where an uninterested clerk took my basic info, handed me some forms and told me to sit and wait till my name was called. I almost laughed. There was no place to sit. The place was filled probably past what the fire code would safely allow.
Eventually, I found a blank spot on the wall just around a corner and leaned against it to fill out the forms. I tried to focus on what I was doing, but I just couldn’t shut out my environment. I began to feel the stress of not “belonging.” What I heard and what I was seeing was weighing on me. I was watching people who seemed to be stuck in the system. I was saddened to see the hyper pigmented “diabetes” ring around the necks of so many adults and children alike. I saw people who could not possibly be as old as they looked, struggling to get comfortable on the plastic chairs. It was unbelievable how many people were there. I felt so out of place as I progressed through my paperwork. The process was already becoming traumatic and I wasn’t even sure why. After all, I’m just applying for assistance during a hard time. It won’t always be this way. I’ll find a job and be a contributing member of society again. Hopefully soon.
Finally, after 45 minutes my name was called and I walked quickly to the clerk and smiled. She wasn’t interested and in a bored voice told me to follow her. We went back to her cubicle to go over what I had filled out and to determine my eligibility. As I settled into the chair she started typing without saying a word to me. I could hear other people applying and began to feel uncomfortable again. Eventually she looked up at me and asked for my paperwork before typing again. After awhile she started asking me questions about what brought me in and what my goals were. She seemed a little confused when I told her the types of jobs I was applying for and admitted to not being able to say the words in my job description.
The whole situation was in the end, surreal. I am “initially” eligible for assistance. I need to complete a “few” more forms and return again with copies of my bills, lease, car note, child support statement and my Driver’s License. Yes. Somehow today as I left home, I forgot to grab my wallet. Yay. So already from the beginning I was destined to return. As I collected the paperwork to take home and bring back, the bored woman finally looked at me and said, “Have a good day. I think you won’t be on assistance for very long.”
It’s nice to think I won’t be on assistance very long. I hope to find a job before the assistance even kicks in. Reality is, I know life is hard. I am highly capable and qualified to do a number of jobs. But so are many others. And as I walked out the door, I finally saw some of those others like me in the crowd. Standing there shell shocked. Some holding a child close, some like me, without their children today. Somehow, seeing those other faces and viewing the restrained pride in their eyes and shoulders made me feel better. I don’t want to be stuck in the “system,” and seeing them there with the same conviction to not be stuck, but willing to do what needed to be done was comforting. I can’t say exactly why. Misery loves company?
Today, I spent trying to complete all the forms and gather all the materials. Not much job hunting done today. One application sent out and I started redoing my resume again via a friends very helpful comments. In my world, hopefully, I won’t have to go back to DHS because I’ll be gainfully employed by weeks end. Well, I can hope anyway. I do know it will still be hard to go back but at least I’ve got the first hurdle done; I swallowed my pride and stayed the course.