[Hpn] The Other Side of the Valley;8 Day News Series;Valley News;2001;Vermont

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Sun, 15 Jul 2001 20:29:52 -0400


-------Forwarded News Series Introduction & Editorial-------

Valley News <http://www.vnews.com>
[White River Junction, Vermont, USA]
Eight Day News Series 2001
Introduction & Editorial
The Other Side of the Valley

Text only version <http://www.vnews.com/news/otherside/t_intro.htm>

THIS IS THE STORY, told over eight days, of four working families who live 
on the edge of uncertainty.

It is the story of their attempts to gain, and maintain, their economic 
balance amid the prosperity of the Upper Valley. It tells about the 
struggles, setbacks and triumphs of everyday people, living everyday lives 
in a region where money often determines not only how families live but 
which community they can live in.

In today's Upper Valley, average home prices in Hanover start at about 
$350,000. In Lebanon, families need nearly $2,000 to move into a decent 
apartment. In Norwich, new arrivals pay cash for houses that cost in the 
hundreds of thousands of dollars.

By national standards, the people whose lives are chronicled in this story 
are not poor. They don't receive food stamps or subsidized housing, nor are 
they interested in getting the government's help. They are committed to 
making it on their own.

For that reason:

A waitress works Saturdays and Sundays because the tips are better. A young 
mother would rather live in a tent than risk having her daughter labeled a 
welfare brat. A respiratory therapist buys extra life insurance instead of 
investing in a retirement fund because she worries her three boys might end 
up homeless if the worst happened. A single dad earns extra cash by 
impersonating Elvis.

They live on the other side of the Valley.

Editorial: No Easy Answers

"The Other Side of the Valley," the eight-part series that examined the 
financial struggles of four local families, offered an unblinking view of 
the Upper Valley's dirty little secret: Amid the region's prosperity and the 
continual praise it receives as a wonderful place to live and raise a 
family, many hard-working families find it impossible or nearly impossible 
to make ends meet. While some may worry about juggling their children's busy 
extracurricular schedules or deciding where they will take their annual 
summer vacation, other families must cope with more fundamental challenges: 
where to find shelter they can afford or how to scrape up enough money to 
send their children to the dentist.

It's far from obvious what can be done to address the problem, but it is 
clear what won't work: instructing people to help themselves by working 
harder. All four families profiled in the series, which concluded in last 
Sunday's Valley News, were supported by people who held steady jobs, and 
several of those breadwinners augmented their pay by working unpopular 
shifts or picking up side jobs.

But two full-time jobs at a fast-food restaurant weren't enough to keep the 
Wood sisters, their mother and one of their daughters from having to take up 
residence in a campground and, when it closed for the season, from living 
out of a motel room. A full-time job at the medical center wasn't enough to 
allow Kerrie Ramsey to avoid a stint in the same campground before she found 
a two-bedroom house to rent for herself and three sons. Ginny Macomber's 
waitressing job allowed her to afford a rental in Norwich, but it didn't 
free her from worrying where she would end up once her lease expired. And 
had it not been for the assistance of Habitat for Humanity, Barry Seaver 
might still be trying to accommodate his three children and himself in a 
two-bedroom apartment, which was the best he could do with his earnings.

Another frequently offered solution -- trust these people's fate to the 
invisible hand of the marketplace -- also offers slim hope. It's not that 
the law of supply and demand has been repealed; it's that it works only too 
well. Demand for affordable housing far exceeds the supply, and prices have 
shot up, leaving few places that fit into the budgets of those who live 
paycheck to paycheck. For several of these families, the problem wasn't 
handling the monthly rent but saving the considerable sum needed to meet 
landlords' requirement for first and last months' rent and a security 

In fact, considering how strong the market signals are -- the soaring cost 
of new housing, the high prices and scarcity of family-sized apartments, the 
growing gap between wage levels and housing costs -- it's legitimate to 
wonder whether the plight of the working poor is really a dirty secret or a 
glaring truth that many of us would prefer to avert our gaze from. "The 
Other Side of the Valley" didn't so much tell us something we didn't know as 
it forced us to confront a situation that is all too tempting to avoid.

Is there nobody focusing on what seems to be the working poor's most 
daunting financial challenge -- shelter? Of course there is, including 
nonprofit housing authorities and organizations such as Habitat for 
Humanity. Every once in a while, a town will take it upon itself to sponsor 
a project or see what it can do to augment its inventory of affordable 
housing. Hanover is doing that now. But there is only so much that one town 
or any one organization can accomplish. The same goes for employers, which 
clearly have a stake in making sure that rental rates don't make it 
impossible to maintain a stable work force.

Until some entity comes along that gives this problem the attention it 
deserves and has the resources and vision to address it on a regional basis, 
the Upper Valley will continue to have families who, no matter how hard they 
work, will live in circumstances that the more comfortable among us would 
prefer not to think about.

ADD YOUR VOICE: email a letter to the editor <forum@vnews.com>

About This Series
About a year ago, the Valley News began taking a look at life for ordinary 
working families in the Upper Valley. Initial interviews with more than a 
half-dozen social service agencies made one thing clear: The Upper Valley is 
not an easy place to live if you don't have a lot of money. The region's 
most pressing problem, these agencies agreed, is a lack of affordable 
With this information as background, staff writer Jim Kenyon began visiting 
neighborhoods, motels and campgrounds in search of families with a story to 
tell. The focus narrowed to single-parent families, because they seemed to 
have the most to juggle: work schedules and demands at home.

In the end, four families stood out.

For 10 months, Kenyon and three Valley News photographers chronicled the 
lives of these four Upper Valley families. They went to work and school with 
them; they spent holidays with them, and for dozens of hours, they 
interviewed them. All of this was done with their permission.

Many quotes are taken from the reporter's notes. When the reporter was not 
present, conversations were reconstructed with the help of one or more of 
the people involved. The Valley News thanks the families and others who 
appear in this eight-part series for their cooperation.

The Other Side of the Valley

by Jim Kenyon

Text only version <http://www.vnews.com/news/otherside/t_intro.htm>


A Campsite Called Home
Chapter One:


-- See photos for Chapter One:


New Surroundings, Familiar Worries
Chapter Two:


-- See photos for Chapter Two:


Delicate Balance: Pride and Need
Chapter Three:


-- See photos for Chapter Three:


Small Victories, Great Expectations
Chapter Four:


-- See photos for Chapter Four:


Keeping the Faith In a Season of Hope
Chapter Four [Five]:


-- See photos for Chapter Five:


In the Shadow of Death, Comfort
Chapter Six:


-- See photos for Chapter Six:


Travelling Light: Bags and Baggage
Chapter Seven:


-- See photos for Chapter Seven:


Four Families on the Move
Chapter Eight:


-- See photos for Chapter Eight:



**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this
material is distributed without charge or profit to
those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving
this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**


-------End of forward-------

Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

Looking for news and information about homelessness?
Visit the Homeless People's Network (HPN)
for CONSTANTLY UPDATING NEWS on Homeless People:

Over 10,000 articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people
Been Homeless? Then JOIN! EMAIL Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net>
Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy

Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com