By Erik Wesley
A recent trip down to the hollers of Kentucky opened my and my fellow travelers’ eyes to the true face of poverty in America. Destitution is alive and well within the region called Appalachia, and has resulted in a beautiful mountain range of hopelessness.
Here I wish to give you a first-hand account of the living conditions in poverty-stricken Appalachia, so that you will be able to see what I saw. Through understanding problems like these, we will better be able to help and combat the conditions that have led Appalachia to its current condition.
Poverty in Appalachia: The Broken Homes
By “broken homes” I do not mean divorce and infidelity (though the residents of Appalachia informed me that both are very prevalent in the region). The homes that I refer to as being broken are the Appalachian residents’ physical homes.
While in Appalachia, those I was traveling with and I worked on repairing homes and other structures. The homes for the poor residents of Appalachia are little more than trailers that have been turned into permanent dwellings and shacks built by people who do not understand building construction very well.
The wet climate of the Appalachian Mountains in Kentucky has caused rot to settle into the majority of the wood in many of these homes. As we worked to fix walls, decks, and roofs, many of the repairs we attempted had to be abandoned because the wood of the house was to rotten to support new wood or construction.
The varying degrees of disrepair in these homes show the poverty of Appalachia prominently. Rot, termite infestations, holes, cracked and broken foundations, and the like have rendered many of these homes beyond repair.
Poverty in Appalachia: The Failing Health
One of the residents of a home we worked on, a woman named Marsha, told the typical story of health in Appalachia in a way that truly touched my heart.
As we worked on repairing her doors and windows, she was seen crying inside her home. One of our workers asked her what was the matter, and she told her that it was the anniversary of the death of her son, who would have been 9 years old. Her son was born with a condition that could have been treated by the medical community, but her poverty prevented her from seeking treatment for her ailing child.
Marsha blames herself for not being able to afford treatment for her son.
Many in this region of Appalachia echo this story. Jobs are almost non-existent, and most people live off government welfare checks to get by. As these people attempt to scrape by with what little money they have and no hope of jobs, their health takes a back seat to surviving.
Throughout this poverty-stricken region of Appalachia the drinking water is suspect, children simply deal with lice infestations in their hair, animals and creeks carry disease to their homes, and people are forced to live with varying degrees of congenital issues caused by the coal and strip mining in the area. When a culture of alcoholism and substance abuse is added to the mix, the results are demoralizing, to say the least.