Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Roanoke social worker knows of what she speaks
Phyllis Beaubien works by day solving others' problems. She works at night solving her own.
The Roanoke Times | File March
Phyllis Beaubien makes dinner at home. With two jobs and not much time to cook, she often makes larger portions so she has enough to last for several meals.
ERIC BRADY The Roanoke Times
Phyllis Beaubien takes calls on speakerphone a couple of weeks ago at work at the Department of Social Services. People with financial problems call seeking help — and Beaubien, who works two jobs to make ends meet, knows what they are going through.
Whatever happened to...?
The phone is still ringing at Phyllis Beaubien's desk.
And ringing and ringing. About once every two minutes.
How do I get food stamps? Can I get a bus fare voucher? Child care? Help with my gas bill?
Beaubien took 53 calls in her first 90 minutes manning the main phone line at Roanoke's Department of Social Services on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-December.
Back in March, with the economy in a steep slide, Beaubien was manning those same phone lines, and not much has changed, she reports.
Nor has much changed for Beaubien herself, though she's as cheerful now as then. She's still working a second part-time job at Target on top of her full-time job at social services just to make ends meet and hang on to the house she nearly lost to foreclosure a year ago.
"I'm blessed. It could be worse," she said. "Of course, it could be a hell of a lot better, too."
The people she takes calls from at the Department of Social Services might say the same thing. And statistics bear out Beaubien's take on business being up in her department.
In October 2008, the Roanoke office received an average of 411 calls a day, said Patrick Kennerly, Beaubien's boss. This October, the average was 439 calls a day.
And the onset of winter is driving up need, too. In September, 6,432 people came to the social services office on Williamson Road, Kennerly said. In October, that number climbed to 8,131.
People are lined up 20 deep by the time the doors open at 8 a.m., Kennerly said.
Lately, much of the interest has been in the state's fuel assistance program, which helps people pay winter heating bills. Beaubien got several calls that Wednesday from people wondering if they'd been approved. Letters were about to be mailed, she told them.
"You have to give them something to cling to," Beaubien said.
Beaubien is well acquainted with hanging on. Three house payments behind in 2008, she was able to stave off foreclosure only by filing for bankruptcy.
She works two jobs just to hold on to what she's got. Some days she starts work at social services at 8 a.m., and doesn't get home from Target until after 2 a.m.
But it's all in how you look at it. "I have two jobs. To me, that's a good thing," she said.
"It's amazing what you can do when you have to," Beaubien said. "I've learned that you can't bring me down. Eventually, I'm going to be my cheerful self again."
But hers is a life without luxury. No cellphone, no cable television. "When am I going to watch cable?" she said, laughing. "I'm working."
She allows herself an Internet connection and she takes the newspaper to go with her morning coffee.
Oh, and she splurged and painted her living room. Priming, taping and painting, it took a month of short passes at it on rare days off.
Both her boys are in college at Radford University, so they aren't eating at home as much now. Every little bit helps.
You have to make choices, she said. Fix the leaky bathtub and the broken sump pump, but the busted lawn mower can wait.
But working is not a choice.
"I can't get sick. I can't do it," Beaubien said. Too many days off from Target without pay and she would be back where she was a year ago. One major car repair would amount to the same problem.
When will it change? Beaubien can't imagine, literally. Oh, she can fantasize about lying on a Hawaiian beach with the sun on her face. But an ordinary life without struggle, with just one job and enough to live comfortably?
That, she can't envision. It's been too long.
"It's just foreign to me."