by Matthew Desmond

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Chapter 12

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Disposable Ties

Arleen’s eviction is the following day, but she has not received her welfare check. She does not know where to go. Sherrena figures that Arleen has family to turn to, but she does not. None of her siblings have the resources to help. Arleen’s favorite aunt, Merva, has money but Arleen only calls her during emergencies. Evictions do not count.

Sherrena arrives to tour the apartment with a prospective tenant. She often does this before an evicted tenant moves out. Sherrena tells the young woman, Crystal Mayberry, that Arleen has been evicted and will be gone tomorrow. To everyone’s surprise, Crystal offers to let Arleen and the boys stay with her until they find a new home. Arleen is very relieved and grateful.

Crystal moves in with only three garbage bags full of clothes. Arleen suspects that she only offered to let her and the boys stay because, while they do not have much, they have a television, a mattress, a microwave, and other furniture. She sleeps on Arleen’s loveseat in the living room. However, Arleen is thankful. She does not have to split the rent, so she is able to catch up on bills and buy Jori a new pair of sneakers.

Crystal, who is eighteen years old, grew up in foster care. Both of her parents smoked crack, and her mother gave birth to her after being stabbed in the back eleven times during a robbery. Crystal was taken from them at age five. She's lived in dozens of homes, including with her aunt Rhoda, who eventually returned her. After reaching adolescence, Crystal got into fights and received assault charges.

When Crystal turned seventeen, her caseworker helped her find housing subsidized by a child welfare agency. She would need to get a job to keep it, but Crystal was not interested in working. She lived off of the SSI she received for having bipolar disorder and eventually became homeless.

  • By inviting Arleen to live with her, Crystal was enacting a common strategy among poor people who cannot depend on family or social programs. Though poor black families of the 1960s and 1970s relied upon each other by sharing resources and services, social problems—such as the crack epidemic and prison boom—disrupted their vital support networks. Furthermore, the state discouraged “kin dependence” by awarding larger welfare stipends to mothers who lived alone or with unrelated roommates.

A week after Crystal moved in, Arleen is apartment hunting. She decided that, since she has the unexpected opportunity to take her time, she will be picky. She never wants to live in the inner city again and would love to find a two-bedroom apartment downtown for $525.

Jori walks in, and Arleen becomes angry. His teacher called because he is in trouble at school again. Jori tries to explain, saying that “the teachers get slick with all the kids” in that school. Arleen loudly dismisses him and orders him to do his homework. Jori goes to his room, trying not to cry.

Arleen leaves to look at apartments all over the snowy city, avoiding neighborhoods where unpleasant family members and exes live. She calls the numbers on rent signs but has no luck. Landlords either do not answer the phone or are charging more than she can afford.

Suddenly, Crystal calls, screaming that Arleen has to leave her house that night. Arleen hangs up, annoyed. Jori was apparently disrespectful to Crystal. However, she knows that Crystal is emotionally volatile because of hunger, so she stops by a corner store to stock up on food.

At home, Jori tries to defend himself,...

(This entire section contains 726 words.)

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saying that Crystal was trying to send Jafaris outside with no coat or shoes. Crystal counters that Jafaris went out on his own and that Jori called her a bitch three times. Arleen listens patiently, “as a mother does when she comes upon fighting children.” After she is tired of listening, she reprimands both of them.

Crystal is outraged, but ultimately allows Arleen and the boys to stay for a time. She cites the Holy Ghost as being the one “telling me not to make y’all leave,” but Arleen knows it is because she wants her share of the food and furniture. After things settle down, Arleen comforts Jori but explains that “this is what comes when you lose your house.”


Chapter 11


Chapter 13