The neatly organized folder sat between us, a solemn sign of the imminent discharge of Patient 210B.
As a nurse’s assistant for almost two years back in my hometown of Santa Clarita, I had grown more than familiar with this routine. A discharge packet grants a patient relief, contentment and a deserved homecoming. The procedure is ordinarily a welcomed change for those in a cramped hospital bed, allowing them a return to normalcy and a promising future. The patient in 210B did not share this typical sentiment, however. Her somber expression spoke volumes to the bleak situation awaiting her outside the hospital walls.
With no kin or companions to speak of, she confided in me. She told me her early tales of adventure and romance, yet her voice filled with remorse when she recounted the hindrances she encountered on her journey to Santa Clarita. As an ambitious 23-year-old, Julia had ventured to California, chasing the region’s cloudless climate and charming coastline. Five years later, however, her minimum wage job failed to cover her rent payments and the meal costs for her and her two sons, and her mounting debt became increasingly daunting. Her days consisted of grueling 5 a.m. shifts as a supermarket stocker, followed by another job at her local Burger King, which had her toiling in the back room of a fast-food kitchen. Her discharge meant a return to this perpetual routine of working endless hours, scraping together measly meals and struggling to make ends meet. Economic turmoil had obliterated Julia’s optimistic plans for the future, leaving her isolated and leaving me … perplexed.
I couldn’t seem to grasp any answers. Why her? What choices did she make that placed her in such an austere position? How could others evade this same type of instability?
As I wander the streets of Berkeley today — years after this interaction with Julia — these same questions resurface. From the man sleeping on a bench outside a grocery store to the barefoot woman begging for change on Dwight Way, I wonder how one human beings’ belongings can be reduced to what can fit into a shopping cart. According to recent data, Berkeley’s homeless population jumped 13 percent in the past two years. This is startling, yet not entirely unexpected. Affordable housing in the Bay Area is virtually nonexistent, and low-income families face the grim consequences. Before committing to this campus, I had completed hundreds of internet searches on UC Berkeley. There is no shortage of articles about the many homeless encampments in Berkeley, the individuals who live at People’s Park or even the way panhandlers have become a permanent entity on Telegraph Avenue.
Affordable housing in the Bay Area is virtually nonexistent, and low-income families face the grim consequences.
After two years at this campus, the displaced and poverty-stricken individuals in the area have become commonplace, a familiar fixture that I encounter when I walk almost anywhere.
To me, Santa Clarita has always been a different story. Known to most from the Netflix series, “Santa Clarita Diet,” I perceived my hometown as a mecca for families — full of nothing more than safe suburbs, award-winning schools and low crime rates. Yet, thinking back to Julia’s story, I realized just how ignorant this misconception truly was.
Julia is just one of the hundreds in Santa Clarita who face tremendous economic hardships. In fact, according to research conducted this past year, Santa Clarita’s homeless population grew by 60 percent in 2019. Moreover, more than half a million households in Los Angeles County are food insecure, leaving countless parents and children uncertain of where or when they will eat their next meal.
From the homeless population in Oakland to the single mother in New York with an eviction notice on her front door, poverty is an uncompromising epidemic, impacting billions across not only the nation but the entire globe.
Poverty’s pervasiveness, however, only motivates me to do what I can to help improve this issue. This past summer, the Santa Clarita Valley Food Pantry became a second home to me. My mornings consisted of 5 a.m. shifts as a meal driver, picking up food donations from local markets and businesses. This was followed by another job at my local Single Mothers Outreach, where I watched over-energetic children as their mothers took a class about reaching financial security. Balancing my volunteer work with my summer internship made my schedule hectic, hardly allowing me any free time, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
No, my contributions did not save any lives, and sure, my efforts may have proven inconsequential on a global scale. Yet, it is these same globally inconsequential actions that make the most difference in the lives of individual people. My actions afforded a mother the opportunity to start a savings account or gave a child the ability to eat lunch at school. In all I do, I aim to utilize my own financial stability to help share this security with others in need.
Julia’s personal narrative inspired me to pursue the most fulfilling future goal — the ambition of accomplishing good. My practicality tells me that I will not be the individual who eradicates international poverty, but I will undoubtedly try.
Brianna Brann is the Social Media editor. Contact her at [email protected].