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Eviction, crime led to my mere survival

BRADENTON — We survived.

That’s all I can say about how my pretend family fared Thursday during the poverty simulation at the Living on the Edge workshop.

I participated with about 70 social service agency leaders as the Manatee Community Action Agency showed us how 12.2 percent of county residents who struggle with poverty live.

My family consisted of me, aka Lester Louis, a 57-year-old man on disability; Larry and Linda Locke, a 36-year-old married couple; and Lily Locke, a 15-year-old girl.

Larry, played by Ivan Groom, a county redevelopment coordinator, had a full-time job and a paid-off automobile, which meant we started our journey better off than many of the other families.

We were charged with living four 15-minute “weeks,” using cash, food stamps, vouchers and transportation passes to pay our bills, meet our needs and get from place to place.

Larry made $1,241 per month. Though I had health problems, I brought in $330 a month in disability benefits.

As a family, our income, including $210 of food stamps, was $1,781, or $6 more than our expenses, which included a $630 mortgage, a $440 grocery allowance, a $200 loan payment on my car and $275 for utilities, among others.

Linda, played by MCAA board member Rita Smith, was unemployed. Lily, played by Erin Blackledge, a social worker at Sarasota’s Jewish Family & Children’s Service, swiftly got expelled from her school. That allowed her to work full time at a grocery store to help out the family, but it didn’t bode well for her future.

We were twice victimized by crime. Once, when we all left the house at the same time, someone made off with our television, camera, jewelry and furniture. Later, I was home alone when a street tough played almost too convincingly by Albertha Williams broke in, held a squirt gun to my head and demanded I hand over $200.

When she got home from her job at the grocery store, Lily insisted I report the crime to the police.

“I just worked all day for $75, and you’re saying you lost $200?” Lily said.

It was a smart move: We got our $200 back, and Williams went to jail.

Oh, and we got evicted from our house because we waited too long to pay the mortgage. The plucky Lily got us out of that one, too, by offering the mortgage company a $31 late charge along with the payment.

So we ended the month back in our home with $120 cash and 11 transportation tickets.

But most of our possessions were gone, and our teenager was a dropout.

We merely survived.