It’s Expensive to be Poor
I wanted to create a project on the costs of being poor. About how the U.S. system and utility bills keep the poor behind the economic curve and dig a deeper hole in their lives. In my research, I found a single mother of 32 years being neglected by affordable housing: Lisa McKine.
I first found Lisa on a Philadelphia Instagram page called nogunzone; it reposts police news and shares crime reports from people in the community. I find it more informative than the local news, however I know several people who choose not to tune in for mental health reasons; it shows all the bad crime, and we are currently on track to outdo last year’s homicide rate.
Days after a tragic fire in another Philadelphia affordable housing apartment (PHA) that killed 12 people, a social media trend began with videos of people sharing themselves holding burning cigarettes near a silent smoke alarm. One in particular caught my eye, Lisa’s video of her son, telling him to wake up as a bunch of flies flew off his face.
Lisa did not grow up poor, she was raised by her dad and stepmother. Her dad worked for the City of Philadelphia, managing janitorial duties in the courthouse. Her parents separated when she was young and it wasn’t until her 20s when she learned bad habits from her biological mother of working the system. Lisa found herself a single mother of two children and living in her first apartment of PHA affordable housing for ten years.
Lisa’s brother, Raul “Bobby” Gore is currently on probation and has dealt with his own unfortunate circumstances. He told me about the decisions he made in his early twenties that put him in and out of jail. He knows he can’t change how irresponsible he was, but is now enjoying life with his family and providing for them. He works during the week while his wife works on the weekends, and they take turns watching their children. The environment Bobby grew up in at a younger age was surrounded by cops who watched him and his friends go to and from school. He remembers having fun with the cops by making them chase him and his friends.
My first visit to Lisa’s place was at the beginning of March of this year. There was an exterminator outside her building with hoses hooked up to an apartment on the second floor. Inside her apartment I noticed a particular odor and counted at least two roaches and one dead in the kitchen cabinet. Lisa had been complaining about the roach infestation to PHA since 2020, sharing records of failed exterminations, and the summer of 2021 is when the flies began appearing. The infestation has forced her to live out of bins and plastic bags. PHA exterminates the apartment every month and denies Lisa the permission to move to a new place.
While photographing Lisa, I learned she has an associates degree in Applied Science in Construction Management from the college I work at. We crossed paths in 2018 but never met each other. Sharing personal frustrations, we spent a lot of time together as we both needed someone to just hear us and provide emotional support. Her boys Zaahir (11) and Quamir (5) are well behaved, social and sweet. Lisa provides for them all by driving for Uber, bartering within her community, making and selling her own hair and skin products, as well as providing different hair services and body contouring.
Luckily, Lisa found help to make a few months' deposit on rent for a new house outside of affordable housing. Through her four businesses, she plans to cover her rent of $2500. The ample light from Lisa’s new house windows will help with her mood, and knowing her dad is 13 minutes away in a nursing home should relieve some stress. Lisa’s dad had a stroke, which required doctors to remove the left side of his brain due to bleeding. Her step-mother also had brain surgery due to a horrible fall, and now both her parents are bedridden while they recover from surgery.
Witnessing Lisa’s life, I imagined myself in her situation. A single mother unhappy in an infested home, barely getting by while the only way out is taking a huge risk renting a house without knowing if she can afford it. The purpose of this NFT collection is to give back to the community, specifically to Lisa, and so I have shared Lisa’s wallet address with you below.
The more time I spent with Lisa, the closer we became. We talked about our experiences of dating in Philadelphia and of life in general. I don’t become friends with all my subjects, but for those who don’t have a problem sharing their feelings, I tend to share back. During one visit I couldn’t help but break down crying; and on another, Lisa needed to as well. It happened as we had planned to take the photograph that became Lisa Praying to God and Ancestors, when she was telling me about how her dad was transferred to a different hospital. Wondering why, she demanded to see him and discovered he had a large infected bed sore that went up his back. From the photo, the scab looked as long as my arm with a faint fist-sized sore. Why did they wait so long to tell Lisa? More neglect. Lisa would love to take care of him herself if she was able to. In the end, Lisa still wanted to make the photograph, she wanted to keep her promise and help me with my project. I said no, but ultimately gave in even though it was completely dark out. My plan was to catch the sun setting. However, life isn’t what we plan it to be. During the photo, I could hear Lisa praying to God and her ancestors, full of sadness, hope and joy.
To keep up with Lisa, follow her on Instagram @lovelylisa215, @hollywoodglamour.co, @mckine_building_group
Donate ether to Lisa’s address: 0x0cE11858dc7f01E6c2bEB9d1f2F6cb273484076e
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