Now Playing:

News

News | Economy | Hunger In Oregon: Then And Now

Paycheck To Paycheck, Food Stamp To Food Stamp, The Cycle Continues


Twelve years ago, life was hard for Tyra Lynn.  Her husband had just lost his job, and the then 27-year-old mother of three had a hard time making ends meet. She was struggling to feed her family and relying on food stamps. 

She wasn’t alone. In 2000, Oregon had the highest rate of hunger in the nation.

OPB’s Rob Manning spoke with Lynn around that time and she told him: “And I’m walking down the street at the bus stop, OK, digging in the trash can. Putting the bottles and cans in my stroller. So that I can take them to 7-11 and buy a loaf of bread, or you know whatever it is, that I might need, OK. A roll of toilet paper.”

Tyra Lynn at 27: family photo.  This photo has been touched up to remove film grain and scratches.
 

Tyra Lynn at 27: family photo.  This photo has been touched up to remove film grain and scratches.  

Courtesy of Tyra Lynn

This fall, OPB spoke with Lynn again to see if her situation has changed more than a decade later.

“It’s been almost 15 years. It’s just kind of hard to think about,” says Lynn.

Now 39, Tyra Lynn still lives in Portland. She agreed to meet outside a coffee shop and listen back to what she had to say then: “I’m kinda done listening. It’s kinda depressing. Cause we’re pretty much in the same situation.”

Today Lynn lives in a two-bedroom rental home with her son Kilyan, now 13, and 17-month old baby Hogarth. It’s hard to sum up more than a decade. But when Kilyan was a baby, things were really tough.

Here’s how she described it back then, when seven people were staying over for the holidays and she needed milk: “I took the last of the money I had, I mean, the change jar dumped it all out, and went and bought a gallon of milk had so that Kilyan, he was over a year old, so that he could have milk.”

“I swear that it was not here for two hours and it was gone. I just freaked out, you know. I guess I should have communicated to everybody that that was for the baby and for no one else.” 

In the intervening years, the food bank and food stamps helped keep her family from going hungry. “There have been some ups and downs. We just got our first food box, I think six months ago, after five years of not needing those resources.”

A couple years went well. She started college, and her husband made a good wage. But then he got sick.  “He had a tumor that was in a really compromising place,” Lynn says.

He had nine surgeries in five years. Lynn supported their family of four: “For five, six years I was the sole breadwinner.”

She worked at a food co-op, but lost that job earlier this year. Now she works part-time for $15 an hour serving samples at grocery stores. Even when she was working full-time, there were months when she didn’t know how she’d make rent. At one point their family was homeless. She and her husband separated in 2011.

“I’ve been on food stamps my entire adult life,” she says.

Was there ever a time that she thought she wasn’t going to make it? “That’s like a reality everyday sometimes.”

Even twelve years ago, Lynn said she couldn’t see a clear path out of poverty.

“It’s not that I’m not looking for a way out, I just don’t, I just don’t, I don’t see it. Every day I see I gotta do this today to get by. I gotta do this tomorrow to get by. I can’t really tell you what I need to do today to make sure that a year from now, I’m not in the same position,” she said at the time.

Today, it’s hard for Lynn listen back to herself, all those years ago. “I kinda feel the same way now. I don’t see a clear path out. I just know I can’t stop trying.”

When we ended our story twelve years ago, we said that Lynn lives paycheck to paycheck, or food stamp to food stamp. Today, that’s still true.

Amanda Peacher is a 2014 Equal Voice Journalism Fellow. This story was produced with support from the Marguerite Casey Foundation’s Equal Voice Journalism Fellowship and the Journalism Center on Children & Families.