Mar 10 2011

poverty: the stress of a downward spiral [day 287]

My rent payment is $286.  My utilities are $190 this month.  I don’t own a phone, I don’t have a job and I have a baby to take care of.  My name is Iris Isaacson… but only in this temporary make-believe world.  This world I’m speaking of is a poverty simulation, a game to teach people what it’s like to live in poverty.

I participated in this event last night.  At first, I thought it seemed like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  In the middle of it, I was thinking, “…what a chaotic game…”, but also realizing much of it was like real life.  At the end of it, I was worn out.  I couldn’t pay my bills, the ones I did pay were late, I had to pawn my jewelry, sold my camera, and after all the hardships and paying everything late, I got evicted anyway.  Here’s a description of the simulation.

The Poverty Simulation is a simulation experience developed by the Missouri Association for Community Action. During the simulation, participants pretend to be members of a low-income community attempting to survive four 15-minute weeks of poverty. The simulation relies on role playing techniques and extensive props to help participants understand the day to day challenges faced by families living in poverty.  Continue reading


Aug 12 2010

green & clean plan [day 77]

I guess you could call it shopping.  I shopped around for renewable energy plans and solar energy systems over the past two weeks.  Here’s what I found.

My utility provider is Stream Energy.  My one year contract was up last month, so I decided to shop around.  Price was not my driving factor, it’s renewable energy.  Not partial, but 100% renewable.  After comparing the hundreds of providers on powertochoose.org, I found that Stream has a 100% renewable plan.  Since I was already with them, switching was easy to do.

Does your provider offer a renewable energy plan? If so, consider switching.  If you’re a current customer, and in a contract, in most cases they will switch you to a different plan with no penalties.

Now the CoServ thing…

I’m still at a loss of how an area that has been deregulated can have a power company like CoServ where people don’t get to choose.  Their prices are higher (during peak times) and people with this company are stuck with them.  I talked to several people that have CoServ, some like it, some don’t and some just don’t care.  So CoServ calls themselves a co-op, and I guess that stands for ‘no choice’.  Here’s some dialogue I found on the web about this issue:

Customer #1: Electricity has been deregulated in Texas. For some reason, co-ops like Coserv do not have to comply with this law. This seems not only unfair to me but also somehow illegal. Can the city do something to help out its citizens/taxpayers?

City official: I apologize for your frustrations with CoServ Electric. The City does not have jurisdiction over which utility companies opt in or out of deregulation and it is not illegal for them to not be involved in deregulation. Your first action should be to file a formal written complaint with CoServ and send copy to the City to my attention. The next step is to file a formal written complaint with the Public Utility Commission who oversees electricity in Texas. To file a complaint with the PUC you can access their website here. The following information is from the website www.powertochoose.org.

Electric cooperatives and city-owned utilities may decide whether their customers will have a choice of Retail Electric Providers. Customers should contact their electric cooperative for more information.

The City does not oversee or control which electric provider the developer contracts with. However, if the subdivision is not a gated community, and the City accepts the subdivision phase it becomes public right of way. Once there is public right of way established any other utility can operate in the right of ways.

Customer #2: I live in an area of Frisco that is co-op. Thus, I do not have a choice of utility providers.  Will this issue change in the near future? If not, is there a legal course that I could follow to obtain the “freedom to choose”?   It would seem that there would be legal grounds for me to have the same rights as other citizens of Frisco have when choosing a utility provider.

City official: You are correct that CoServ Electric is organized and recognized by the State of Texas as a co-op utility company. Several years ago when the Texas Legislature deregulated retail electric, they specifically allowed co-ops to make the choice to “opt-in” to deregulation, or continue doing business as they always have – that being controlled by an elected Board of Directors. While the City of Frisco has taken the position that all utility customers in Frisco should have the same ability to access competition, the Legislature has not yet made any changes to the law.

The City of Frisco has no jurisdiction or authority over whether or not COServ opts into deregulation. It is an issue that would need to come from the CoServ Board of Directors. Additionally, Texas Legislature could change the law to force co-ops into deregulation by a certain date.

Okay, so what I’m hearing here is that with the right legal jargon, fancy wording, typical politics and ridiculous laws, you can pretty much do whatever you want to? Seriously?  You’re free to choose… but not everywhere.   I could spend all day on this, but it’s not the point, just a frustration.  I welcome any comments on this.  I think everyone should have a right to choose, not just real estate developers and the public that happens to not fall under the co-op.  I have the freedom to shop for power, shouldn’t everyone?


Jun 5 2010

the challenge: day 9 [grilling, propane, outdoor movies, teaching man to fish]

I decided to grill out tonight and was wondering if I was going to need a new propane tank. Since that is energy to cook with, and they sell the tank refills at the grocery store, I have decided this will be okay. I did ponder the fact that it’s not a necessity, as I could cook inside. I also thought that cooking outside versus inside saves on utilities since all of the hot cooking would make the air conditioning run more. Anyway, I’m up for your thoughts on this.

We also went to the outdoor movie in downtown Frisco last night and it was some nice family time. They put up the big inflatable screen and hundreds went to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I kept thinking I need to bring a small version of this to some apartment complexes in Frisco where the kids can’t go downtown, as their parents are working or they don’t have the transportation.

I also want to post my response to a comment left on the future of shopping post. This is from Ozz…

Well lets see….The US is a CONSUMER based economy it is no surprise that companies attempt to make shopping an easier afair. I think it’s kinda cool but I hate dressing rooms. Just think of the jobs from wiring the stores for this, the dock workers taking the shipments of plasma screens, the software support (ok probably really good for India but ya never know)….etc.

Why some of these impoverished people might get a job due to this, then they can buy the clothes. What a concept instead of handing out…train. It is better to show a man how to fish than to just give him fish.

~Ozz~

My response. (Feel free to start a discussion here)

Although I agree with your statement of teaching man how to fish, I don’t feel that this shopping direction is a positive one. This seems to me like another step in making the rich richer and the poor poorer. Our consumer based economy teaches us and our kids that more is better, success is defined by money and happiness will be yours if you buy things that make life easier and more comfortable.

I have become uncomfortable with my comfort. I don’t expect everyone to follow me in that (okay, so I hope some do), but I hope as a society that we can make some positive changes. Like bridging ‘the gap’ between rich people and poor people. ‘Target’ing new ways to build community and thinking outside ourselves, while not building more ‘wal’s to protect ourselves from people we don’t know or understand.

One last thing. There are many types of homelessness and poverty. When I go visit friends (I don’t see these as mission trips anymore), and I see a cute little kid helping me work on painting an apartment so they have a place to meet with others, or maybe a child in Mexico that doesn’t have enough to eat, they just want to feel loved and have their basic needs met. Yes, there are many people who have chosen homelessness as a way of life and I’m sure there are many lazy people our there that don’t want to work and instead ‘work’ the system. But there are many out there that don’t have a choice and they need justice, people who care and are willing to get off their butts and do something about it.

Too lazy to try on clothing or too lazy to work? I’m not the one to judge that, although I have many opinions… (I know, we’re all surprised by that!) My point with this whole shopping thing is that I’m not going to be lazy with this. If it takes a little extra effort to buy necessities that are not excessive, not made in sweatshops and better for the environment, then that’s what I’m going to do. Small change can equal big change.

Ozz, I love a devil’s advocate perspective and you know I greatly appreciate your views! Keep them coming.