The working poor are always present at every homeless shelter and St. John Center is no exception.
Meet Walter. Soon to be 52 years old, he is trying to make it on his own with a minimum wage paycheck.
Since last February, Walter has been employed by a national fast food chain. He is a good worker and has gotten two raises since he started. He works fulltime and makes just under $8 per hour, giving him a weekly paycheck, before taxes, of about $315.
He is excited about an ordinance proposed by five members of the Louisville Metro Council that would raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by July 2017. For Walter, that represents more than a 21 percent increase in his income.
Very stubborn and fiercely independent, Walter refuses to apply for food stamps. He wants to be self-sufficient but his weekly take home pay makes that very unlikely.
“I don’t like to have to ask anybody for anything. Once I get a job I usually keep it for a long time,” he said. “My main goal right now is to get an apartment. I can pay, but I just need someone to help get me in. Once I get an apartment, life will be more stable.”
Walter has a long work history and has had no problem holding a job for an extended period of time. For 10 years he had a housekeeping position at a local hospital and worked at one of the area’s major hotels for eight years.
“While I was working I could afford a place, but when I lost my job I became homeless,” Walter said. He is currently providing his own housing but all he can afford is a room at a boarding house. The reality of his income versus the going rate for apartments in the area, has forced Walter to apply for Section 8 assistance.
Obviously, Walter must spend wisely to make his money last all month. “Rent is my only bill. I buy a little food and bus tickets. I shop at Walmart and Dollar Tree. I get a lot of my clothes at Goodwill. I watch for sales and special deals. Every once in a while I eat at a restaurant if I have a little extra money.”
Living in a single room limits the amount of cooking Walter can do. He has a small refrigerator, a microwave and a hot plate. He eats of lot of baloney sandwiches, frozen dinners and hot dogs.
A Louisville native and only child, Walter was raised by his alcoholic mother. His father was present only in the financial sense. “My mother’s drinking became serious. I had to watch out for her.” He quit high school after his junior year to care for his Mom.
Walter’s 86-year-old mother suffers from incurable cancer. She lives in a nursing home. “I visit her as much as I can,” he said.
Walter is just one of more than 60,000 Kentuckians whose lives would be improved by increasing the minimum wage.