Public Transportation and Poverty Awareness

Dec 11, 2012

Todays' post is written by Alex Green, a recent graduate from the University of Minnesota with a degree in psychology, who is serving with HandsOn Tech in Seattle. He has a solid background in technology as well, having been a projectionist for three years and a sound engineer for two.

My morning commute from Tukwila to Seattle was nothing unusual. I walked down the street from my apartment to the bus stop, still sleepy. It was rainy, blustery and dark. Starting the day with a somber mood, it was all too easy to forget the positives around me. For example, there is a perfect view of Mt. Rainer right from the sidewalk to the bus stop. I guess I missed it that morning.

Since starting my AmeriCorps VISTA year in Seattle, I have had the “opportunity” to go without a car, opting for public transportation instead. Not only has it been cheaper, but personally constructive as well. I can say with confidence that after only two months, I already find myself more knowledgeable about this city than Minneapolis. Considering I grew up around Minneapolis the first 23 years of my life, I think that’s saying something.

My attitude was less favorable at the beginning. Rain, grumpy bus drivers, crying babies and cigarette smoke were all on the list of cons of bussing it, and they still are. However, I ran into a bit of a hiccup that morning: a hiccup that didn’t change my external circumstances, but rather, my attitude.

For whatever reason, that morning my bus pass didn’t work. It just beeped and said, “Try Again.”  I just stood there in disbelief since this was completely new to me. After asking if I had cash (which I did not), the bus driver promptly told me I had to get off the bus. “Wow, really?” I thought. These bus drivers don’t mess around. So I’m off the bus, walking up the hill to my apartment, angry, when something occurred to me. My bus pass was something that I have this whole time I relied on, and just like that, it was gone.

It’s amazing how quickly something that you don’t even think about can fall through. By the time I got up the hill, the sun was out and the morning fog was quickly dissipating. I would definitely be late to work.

Although this occurrence was only a bump in the road with an easy fix (I had cash at home), it gave me some insight into a truth that I had not previously realized. Just getting off the bus in Seattle, you will inevitably walk past many homeless individuals, each with their own personal circumstances. New questions came to mind: how many of these people are lacking something so basic that I have not even considered it as “something” to begin with? What is perpetuating itself in a system of poverty that is not allowing individuals to obtain their basic needs, both internal and external?

What has amazed me from this experience, and my accumulated experience as a VISTA, is that the line between everything working out and everything going wrong can be extremely thin.

All it took was my card malfunctioning and I immediately had no way of getting to work. This gave really quick insight into how quickly the system can keep you on the outside looking in, if you don’t initially have what is necessary to succeed to begin with.

I think that as a VISTA, this situation was an invitation to think more critically about not just poverty as a static condition, but how social momentum can perpetuate poverty. Thankfully, I had the personal resilience to bounce back from this obstacle because of personal support that I have access to in my life. This is support that is often overlooked, but not necessarily granted to everyone. This means being able to pay for a bus pass, but more importantly, to actually believe that I can overcome an obstacle that has stopped me where I’m standing. It also means having the resources to get help if I can’t overcome the obstacle myself. Unfortunately, not everyone has this capacity because of their own personal circumstances. That is why serving as a VISTA is more important than ever. This is something extremely important to understand if we want to seriously reduce poverty. 

We have had the opportunity to discuss how poverty is something that someone can quickly be pulled into and difficult to overcome if one is not prepared. This has helped us develop empathy and an appreciation for what we have. We hope to translate this understanding into our service for the rest of our year.

HandsOn Tech is a national program focused on increasing the nonprofit sector's effective use of technology—ultimately increasing community resources and improving outcomes for low-income communities and families. Offering free nonprofit training and pro-bono technology consulting, the HandsOn Tech project serves eight cities across the country.

Learn more about HandsOn Tech Seattle.