Amidst Prosperity, Many In Silver Spring Struggle To Survive (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Amidst Prosperity, Many In Silver Spring Struggle To Survive

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So, clearly, downtown Silver Spring has come a long way. I mean, nowadays, you can find all sorts of restaurants there, serving everything from jumbo diver scallops to lamb tar-tar. You can hit up the Farmer's Market on Saturdays for organic apples and gourmet goat cheese. You can swing by the AFI Silver to catch an indie film. Or, just next door, you can catch a live performance in Roundhouse Theater's black box. But, many of those amenities are increasingly out of reach for residents living at the bottom of the economic ladder.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:31
And as Tara Boyle tells us, the number of people struggling to survive in Silver Spring is on the rise.

MS. TARA BOYLE

00:00:39
If you'd happened to walk into the Silver Spring Civic Building last Saturday morning, you would have encountered hundreds of people taking part in a conference. A conference about ending poverty as we know it.

DR. PAMELA LOPREST

00:00:50
There are already solutions. Things are happening. Things can happen. It can be done.

BOYLE

00:00:56
That's Dr. Pamela Loprest, a Senior Fellow with the Urban Institute.

LOPREST

00:01:00
And so, I am a believer now. And I think that that is the place from which we can convince other people to care about poverty and that there is something we can do to end it.

BOYLE

00:01:14
Ending poverty sounds pretty good to 54-year-old Silver Spring resident Queenie Featherstone. I meet her during a mid-morning coffee break at the conference. She's wearing a sharp black suit and a broad smile, and you might assume she's one of the policy experts here to give a speech. But that's not the case.

MS. QUEENIE FEATHERSTONE

00:01:31
I have to find a way to get out of this situation of being homeless.

BOYLE

00:01:38
Queenie came today in search of solutions to a very personal problem. Four years ago, her job cut her hours, right around the same time that her rent was going up. Suddenly, her apartment cost 1,000 dollars a month and she was only bringing in 600. Eventually, she was evicted and she's been couch surfing or sleeping in her car ever since. She cries as she tells her story.

FEATHERSTONE

00:02:00
I stay with dear friends or family who open up their home because they know I'm a decent person. I'm not on drugs, I'm not on alcohol. I'm in my right mind. It's just the way the situation fell.

BOYLE

00:02:19
That situation has also meant working multiple part-time jobs, in the hope that soon, she'll make enough money to have her own apartment again.

FEATHERSTONE

00:02:27
I'm a parent educator for Montgomery County Public Schools. I work retail. If a job calls me for temp work, I'll go, cause hard work never killed anyone, as they say.

BOYLE

00:02:44
Ask the experts and they'll tell you that Queenie's situation mirrors the struggles of many Montgomery County residents, people whose poverty is hidden in one of Maryland's wealthiest suburbs. Elizabeth Kneebone studies suburban poverty at the Brookings Institution.

MS. ELIZABETH KNEEBONE

00:02:57
What's been interesting in the 2000s, for Montgomery County in particular, is that the county was actually making progress against poverty before the recession. We saw the poverty rate fall between 2000 and 2007, and the number of residents living in poverty decline.

BOYLE

00:03:14
But once the housing market collapsed, the number of people struggling to make ends meet started to rise. Kneebone says 10 percent of Silver Spring residents now live below the federal poverty line of about 24,000 dollars for a family of four. It's a trend that can be hard to see in many parts of Silver Spring, because poverty here tends to be concentrated in little enclaves around the community.

KNEEBONE

00:03:37
You have some neighborhoods that have poverty rates of upwards of 20 percent, and others that have poverty rates around one percent. So, it's a real range, depending on where you live in Silver Spring.

BOYLE

00:03:46
Many of those struggling to make it are single moms, like Vanessa. I meet her and her two-year-old son, Alex, at a coffee shop in the heart of Silver Spring's redeveloped downtown.

VANESSA

00:03:56
They have no napkins. I have to ask.

BOYLE

00:03:59
Yeah, it's busy in here today.

BOYLE

00:04:01
Vanessa is not this woman's real name. She asked that we use a pseudonym to protect her privacy.

VANESSA

00:04:07
Silver Spring is getting more and more expensive. That's why I live the way I do, you know, with roommates and so forth, just to make it.

BOYLE

00:04:13
Even with those roommates, Vanessa has a hard time making ends meet. She temps as a receptionist, which can pay as much as 15 dollars an hour. But her paychecks aren't consistent. She doesn't have any family in the area and has to pay someone to watch her child.

VANESSA

00:04:28
Basically, I have to figure out my babysitting situation, get a babysitter, cause with temp jobs, it's usually the night before that they call you. Or even the day of to fill in for someone else who might have called in sick or whatever.

BOYLE

00:04:42
Vanessa has an Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice, and in an ideal world, she says she'd go back to school and eventually own her own restaurant. But what she'd really like, what she's desperate for at the moment, is a steady job with health insurance.

VANESSA

00:04:55
It's very hard. When it's time to pay rent, you know, things are very tight. Every month. That's how it works. I try to plan ahead and put money to the side as much as I can to make it, you know, for the next month. So, it's a juggle.

BOYLE

00:05:12
Across town, at a nonprofit not far from Georgia Avenue in the Beltway, workers are engaged in a different sort of juggle. Hauling couches and TVs and coffee tables into a 25,000 square foot warehouse.

MR. MARK BERGEL

00:05:24
This furniture showroom, where you can see about 12 couches here and 12 dressers, had, many of these were not here this morning. So, this row right here was not here this morning. And half of these dressers are new to today, but there were other dressers that were here when we started today, and they're all gone.

BOYLE

00:05:41
Mark Bergel is the founder and executive director of A Wider Circle, which provides furniture to low income families, along with job training and other services. A Wider Circle also organized the conference on poverty that was held in Silver Spring last week.

BERGEL

00:05:55
Poverty is a crisis like maybe no other crisis we have, from a social perspective. So, I have no desire to serve a little bit or do something really nice for people. I have a desire only to see poverty end.

BOYLE

00:06:08
Bergel says to understand poverty in Montgomery County, and in Silver Spring in particular, you have to look beyond the federal poverty line.

BERGEL

00:06:16
So, in Montgomery County, if you're a mother of three kids, so you're a family of four, you need about 80,000 dollars to really live independently, not dependent on others for basic need items. So, the poverty numbers are dramatically lower than the need numbers, if that makes any sense. And in Silver Spring, like most places in the country, the numbers are growing.

BOYLE

00:06:38
Bergel expects those numbers to continue growing over the next five to 10 years. But beyond that point, he's optimistic that things will turn around, both nationally and in the neighborhoods he serves.

BERGEL

00:06:50
Silver Spring is, to me, represents a lot of the potential that we have. In other words, there is still a lot of diversity in terms of the types of folks who live and socialize in Silver Spring. But there are pockets, deep pockets of poverty that we ought to go ahead and prioritize and say, Montgomery County will shine when those neighborhoods shine.

BOYLE

00:07:09
I'm Tara Boyle.

SHEIR

00:07:12
We have extended interviews with some of the folks who took part in that conference on poverty Tara mentioned. You can find them on our website, metroconnection.org.
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