There are things you see, and you just know you have to know more.
I saw a woman a few days ago pushing a Save-A-Lot shopping cart full of 1 gallon jugs of drinking water. She either loves purified water, or (more likely) the water at her house is not fit to drink, or doesn't work at all. I figured I'd ask which it was. I introduced myself, and asked about her cart full of water. She told me her name is Phyllis, and that her water had been undrinkable for months, smelling of rotten eggs. She went on to say that the plumbing pipes in her kitchen in the house she rents on 7th Street have been messed up for at least that long, and that her landlord has had the audacity to tell her to fix it herself if it is that bad and unacceptable. She said she has reported it to Code Enforcement, has complained to her landlord repeatedly, has been told it would be fixed, but here she is, lugging water back from the store so she has something at all, not to mention something safe and sanitary, to drink.
It scares me to think about how many stories like this exist in this neighborhood, hiding in plain sight, stories untold by the facades they put to the street, how many people have sewer systems that back up, or don't work at all; how many people have inoperable plumbing, or gas leaks; how many people have unsafe wiring, or no heat, or mold, or any of the myriad of issues we've heard anecdotes about but have never laid our own eyes on. And many of these stories I've heard first-hand, from people who have put up with sub-standard living conditions for so many reasons: no one listens, they don't know who to tell, they can't afford better, they can make due. It's this last one that is the most terrifying - that people can convince themselves that they don't deserve something as basic and fundamental as clean running water. And so, every time I meet someone like this, like Phyllis, it reminds me how much work there is to be done, how hard it is to make people feel they have the power to speak up for themselves, how hard it is to educate people about their rights and the resources that exist to fight such deplorable conditions, but more than anything else, just how jaded people are about the system, how powerless they feel.
There are so many stories like these, hiding in plain sight. The best I can do is ask, try to help, and hope that that word and hope can spread.