Newly Poor In Nevada

Some middle-income families in Las Vegas are fighting off poverty in ways they never would have imagined. One woman recently found herself panhandling just to get her electricity turned back on.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day, I'm Alex Chadwick. People all over this country are struggling. They're struggling around the world. We have a story today from Nevada. This is a story of a chance encounter between two women. It was a moment that changed the lives of one family very much for the better. Producer Adam Burke has that story.

(Soundbite of children talking)

ADAM BURKE: Tuesday nights in the Laylow(ph) household can be pretty chaotic. The kids have done their homework, they've eaten dinner. And now they're supposed to be getting on to their chores, but, well, they're kind of doing chores.

Then, Denise Laylow gets home from her evening class. Once she's had a fried empanada, some lentils and beans, Laylow gets the kids moving.

Ms. DENISE LAYLOW: You go find your socks, so you're not looking for them in the morning. You go finish the dishes.

BURKE: Denise Laylow and her husband Dakkar(ph) have two daughters and a son. They're also raising three of her sister's children. For months, the two have been struggling to balance their finances. Denise was laid of a year ago from her cocktail waitress gig, and hasn't been able to find a well-paying job since.

Now, she's in school studying to be an electrician. Her husband recently started apprenticing as an iron worker, but his paycheck only covers the rent. They are drowning in a sea of bills.

Ms. LAYLOW: I have borrowed money from my brother, my mom, my grandmother, my in-laws.

BURKE: A few weeks ago, things got worse. And late one night, Denise couldn't sleep.

Ms. LAYLOW: The loan companies were calling me, asking me where is their money. My gas was going to be turned off. Our electricity had already been turned off for three days. The house was really hot, the kids were complaining, the laundry was getting backed up, the laundry was starting to smell. Most of our food went rotten.

BURKE: Laying there, Denise decided to take a radical step, one that she wouldn't even tell her husband about.

Ms. LAYLOW: The next morning after I got the kids off to the bus stop, I just made my sign on a piece of cardboard and I thought about what corner I was going to stand on, because I didn't want to stand in my neighborhood, because I didn't want no one to recognize me. I didn't want to be in any part of town where any of my family members or friends lived, because I didn't want them to drive by and see me.

BURKE: She headed out to a busy Las Vegas street corner where she'd seen panhandlers. She sat in her car for a while.

Ms. LAYLOW: And I just - it took a lot. I was having second thoughts about getting out of my car, but I told myself I had to do this, because the money wasn't going to come in any other way.

So, I went and I stood out there on the corner with my sign. Before when I would pull up to a stoplight and I saw someone asking for money, I'm like, I'm not going go to give them my money. I work hard for my money.

They are just going to go take that money and they're going to go spend it on drugs, or they're going to go buy a beer, or they're going to go gamble it away. You know, if they can stand there, then they can go get a job.

And the first person was a lady and they had just pulled up to the stoplight, and she rolled on her window and she gave me a dollar, and as soon as she did that, I mean, the tears just started falling down my face.

BURKE: That morning, social worker Linda Lara Randall L.(ph) was crossing the city in her car. She works with the chronically homeless in Las Vegas.

Ms. LINDA LARA RANDALL L. (Social Worker): I was driving my car down in Maryland Parkway and Desert Inn, which is a very busy intersection. And there was a woman who was not typical of what normally we see in the street of Las Vegas or probably anywhere.

She had this nice hair pulled back, very shiny pony tail, and little pink plaid shorts on, and I think - I guess what people term, a soccer mom type person, and she was crying.

Ms. LAYLOW: I was only out there for like five minutes and a lady had pulled in behind me in the parking lot, and she opened her door and she said, what are you doing out here?

Ms. RANDALL L.: And she had a sign, and it clearly stated at the top of the sign, I'm not homeless.

Ms. LAYLOW: I just started blubbering more and I said, I'm not homeless, I'm not a drug addict, I don't drink.

Ms. RANDALL L.: The thing that stuck out the most, I think, was the sign said there were six children involved, and she started to tell me her story.

Ms. LAYLOW: I told her, well, I'm here because I just need help.

Ms. RANDALL L.: And I started to tell her a little bit about who I was.

Ms. LAYLOW: Well, she asked me, how much is your bill, and I told her, it's $632.19.

Ms. RANDALL L.: I needed to know was she just using, you know, six kids as a way for empathy or sympathy, or was there really an issue.

Ms. LAYLOW: She says, do you have a copy of the billing? And I knew that's when she was going to help me.

BURKE: Denise went home and collected documents. Linda made a few phone calls. And by the time they parted ways, three and a half hours later in front of the power company building, Denise's bill was paid, and her electricity was getting turned back on.

Ms. RANDALL L.: You know, they're going to be cooking supper, they're going to cook dinner, they're going to have lights, and she's going to give her kids a hot bath, and her husband is going to come home from work, and they're going to both sigh, you know, like, phew.

BURKE: And that experience, those five minutes standing there with her sign, changed the way Denise looks at things.

Ms. LAYLOW: Yesterday, there is a gentleman sitting in front of a store, and I opened up my wallet and I gave him a dollar, and he told me, I'm sorry, he says, I don't like doing this. And I said, that's OK. I said, I did it too.

BURKE: This past Friday, Denise started a new job. But the Laylows are still in deep financial trouble. And Linda Lara Randall L. is seeing families in their situation in many parts of Las Vegas.

Ms. RANDALL L.: It's just more frantic now, because everybody's scrambling, where middle-class people are now probably at poverty level, and I don't know what you call poverty now. You got soccer moms standing on the corner, trying to get power bill money. Bail that out.

BURKE: From NPR News, I'm Adam Burke.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.