Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

The True Cost

A woman is on the sidewalk in front of houses in an urban neighborhood
Screen Capture
VPM News Focal Point
Love Dixon recalls having to walk everywhere when she had no other transportation options. She recounts some of the real costs of poverty.

A Petersburg woman shares candidly the true costs of living with poverty. As a former foster child, she has had to overcome many challenges, including hunger and homelessness, to reach greater financial stability. She says most don’t understand the creativity and resilience required of those struggling to get by with very little. 


ANGIE MILES: It started with an empty refrigerator.

LOVE DIXON (PETERSBURG RESIDENT): At age four, I was taken away from my mom due to poverty. It was a neglect charge due to not having enough food in the refrigerator. Someone was upset with my mom and called CPS and we were taken away from her, placed in a home.

ANGIE MILES: Love Dixon says this is what sent her and her sister into the system where she says she'd traded her mother's love for instability and abuse.

LOVE DIXON: I was aged out of foster care at 18, so I was basically homeless and had no one, so I had to figure out how I could survive at that point.

ANGIE MILES: But she says she had no real skills, no support network, not even a high school diploma, so she says she took GED classes over and over again.

LOVE DIXON: Once I came to Richmond, took me some time because I didn't have enough money to pay for the test, which was $56. That may not be much for some people, but at the time I was struggling.

ANGIE MILES: Dixon has also known homelessness. She says despite having excellent credit and no negative rental history, her small disability check and supplemental income were not close to three times the rental amount required for most apartments.

LOVE DIXON: At times, I was living with strangers. I went on Craigslist at the time and these things didn't work out because one person was like, "I just want your money. I don't want you here." Some people didn't want me to use their refrigerator. If you don't have a refrigerator or can't use the kitchen, those things are essential for actually saving money.

ANGIE MILES: So having to buy food that was more expensive and often less healthy than what she might prepare, and having to endure the unkindness of random roommates, Dixon shares her story now with the desire to help those who've never experienced poverty, to understand more and maybe discriminate less against those who feel like outsiders because their pockets are mostly empty in a country where they are surrounded by relative wealth that many take for granted.

LOVE DIXON: Like transportation, I walked a lot, late for places that I needed to be. Found out that I had to be super early 'cause I never knew what was going to happen. And then some places were dangerous to walk. I had to really suck it in and just go to where I need to go and block out everything, you know, protect myself. So it is like nobody should be hungry 'cause there's so many food banks. However, you have to walk to the food bank, you have to get there on time and you might be at work. I had a big duffle bag suitcase with wheels on it, so I had to put all of my food in that duffle bag with wheels on it and tug it along, sometimes four miles to where I lived because they weren't in in my area. I felt ashamed. Sometimes I would tell people, 'I'm a person too. I'm a person too.' It was dehumanizing. You know, even when I went to school, J. Sargeant Reynolds and VCU at one point, and I was grateful for being in these spaces and I saw how they didn't think about the things that I was thinking about at the time. They was like, "Why is your stomach always hurting?" And I didn't want to tell anyone, but my stomach was hurting because I was taking medicine without food.

ANGIE MILES: Dixon says things are better now, as she's acquired more skills and work experience and expanded her support network. She can barely count on just one hand the number of jobs she works, many of them centered on helping others. Even as she continues moving forward, Dixon has known financial struggle all her life.

DEBBIE WEBB (ROANOKE RESIDENT): I know what it is to have a demon on you and you can't seem to shake it.

ANGIE MILES: For Debbie Webb, the darkness of drug addiction descended upon her.

DEBBIE WEBB: I was married for 25 years. I lost all seven of my kids. I went through not paying my light bill because I chose to smoke drugs. I went through stealing from my mom. I did a lot of things that I wasn't supposed to do, but-

ANGIE MILES: Webb is quick to accept responsibility for the choices she's made and the consequences that have derailed her time and time again, yet financial strife can make its way to anyone, even the most responsible, especially if they have no support network available to help.

KARL STEWART (SHELTER SERVICES DIRECTOR, RESCUE MISSION OF ROANOKE): There is no one reason why people find themselves in need of help, but if people find themselves in need of help, the power, the strength is that there's someone to help them.

ANGIE MILES: Webb has found her way forward because, she says, of this rescue mission in Roanoke, where they serve up sustenance for the mind and spirit for hundreds who have unmet needs.

KARL STEWART: It begins with recognizing that the person across from you can be and could be you. That it is us and we, and that it's not just that individual's challenge, but it's yours as well because you could be in that position. And I think for all of us, if we find ourselves in an emergency, whatever it might be, the greatest good is done when we realize that there are other people who want to help.

MAN 1: How are ya?

KARL STEWART: Come on in, hey, come, guys.

ANGIE MILES: Karl Stewart mentors, encourages, and helps provide hope, which he says is the crucial requirement that allows those exhausted by struggle to keep going in the quest to build better lives.

KARL STEWART: What if your income couldn't support the insurance for a car or money to fix it? Now you have to consider not only I can't get to the store, I can't get to my job, and buses don't run seven days a week. Then think about this, identification. It's not just one ID, you need two. Suppose you don't have that. Without that, you can't get a bank account. We assume everybody has a smartphone. We assume everybody has the ability to get to a computer to fill out a job application. As long as people have hope, as long as they have an opportunity to believe that things can be better, I believe people will do better. And some of the challenges then that we see, like substance abuse, some of the symptoms that are publicized that deal with poverty, I believe those things will be abated. They'll go away simply because people have hope and it's a powerful cure for a lot of things that we see.

DEBBIE WEBB: My apartment is right around the corner. Not only that, I have a job. And the cocoon, it's just growing, growing, growing and there's a butterfly coming about because all that I've went through through this program.

ANGIE MILES: Love Dixon is on that journey, as well. Newly married and with a place to call home, yet she urges others to recognize that poverty is not something that most people actively choose, that being without money and without support, complicates life in ways that are hard to grasp unless you've walked in those shoes that can't afford to stop and rest, that having to pay more to accept less and go without is...

LOVE DIXON: Exhausting. You have to be very creative. You have to think on your feet. And not only a physical battle, it's a mental battle. Even if you don't care what people think, you still have to do the things you need to do to survive.

ANGIE MILES: And ultimately, the cost is counted in dollars, but the constant stress also exacts a price from the minds, bodies, and spirits of those who walk that hard road.


Angie Miles, Host/Producer, anchors and hosts VPM News Focal Point and special broadcasts.
Related Articles
  1. Islands of Disadvantage
  2. Bringing Families Home
  3. Nonprofits work to address secondary effects of poverty
Related Stories