LA Times: Californians tell stories of poverty on Capitol Hill

April 16, 2016

Several House Democrats wiped away tears Thursday as they listened to two Californians talk about living in poverty.

They spoke along with several experts at a House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing titled “The Failure of Trickle Down Economics in the War on Poverty.”

Audience members sniffled as Maverick Bishop, 26, of San Francisco spoke about the years he and his mother spent bouncing from shelter to shelter fleeing his abusive, drug-using father.

“I was pretty young, but I’ll never forget when we checked into the first shelter to get away from my dad,” he said. “My mom and I felt so out of place and scared. During that time I lived in every shelter our city has to offer.”

Bishop said that he joined YMCA of San Francisco's Reach and Rise mentoring program when he was a teen. When the mentorship ended and he started getting into trouble, he said, his old mentor hired him to work part time after school at his construction company.

Bishop said he expects to be turned out as a journeyman carpenter later this year, and he urged Congress to expand mentorship programs.

“This is my story, just one of thousands in San Francisco alone,” he said. “Every child deserves an opportunity to better themselves and earn their place as a contributing member in our society.”

Violet Henderson of Oakland told the panel about growing up poor in Los Angeles before her boyfriend took her to Oakland when she was 14 and began trafficking her for sex.

“For me, like so many, the problem started with childhood poverty,” said Henderson, now 61. “I never remember having hope or vision for a brighter future.”

Henderson was found guilty of  prostitution at 16, and of theft of a few hundred dollars at 19. In prison, she said, she earned her GED and began taking college classes. She worked in construction for 20 years, including working on the San Francisco Bay Bridge. In her 50s, a judge a granted her petition for a certificate of rehabilitation and she began working at coordinating environmental waste for a city agency.

She is currently working on a degree in environmental management at Merritt College in Oakland, and has been invited to transfer to UC Berkeley.