By Euna Lee
Barbara Gallo, a 48-year-old mother, moved into her daughter’s apartment three months ago, and she’s not the only one. As a result of the economic downturn, many families are finding themselves back under one roof in Northern Manhattan.
Gallo’s biggest fear is that she made the wrong choice when she left her job of 15 years to take care of her 21-year-old daughter, who was hospitalized for three months in 2009. Gallo had been living in her own place and making $17 an hour as a medical assistant. She is now unemployed and lives with her daughter’s family in a one-bedroom apartment.
“It sometimes feels degrading as a mother,” Gallo said. “I was always the one who took care of my children.”
This September, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that one in five New York City residents live in poverty. In Washington Heights, families have been feeling the pinch and increasing their numbers under a single roof in order to save money. And the size of households in occupied housing units has increased 27.44 percent for the past 10 years according to the U.S. Census.
Gallo now stands in line two times a week for food stamps at New York City’s Human Resources Administration office in Inwood. Together with her unemployed daughter’s food stamps, she gets $400 each month to buy food.
Gallo said that she knows how to stretch such a small amount of money for the family’s food. “I am a better shopper than my daughter,” she let on.
Gallo explained that she tries to see her situation as a helping mother rather than the one who depends on her child. And when the baby arrives, she said she will be ready, “My daughter will need me more than ever when she gets tired from taking care of the new baby.”
Unlike Gallo, Alicia Marte, 23, is a daughter who moved back into her parents’ apartment. But the embarrassment Marte feels is no different than what Gallo feels. Marte was laid off five months ago after working for five years in an office administration job. She has two children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old. Marte feeds them with food stamps, but a month’s supply only lasts two weeks, and she often depends on her parents’ support.
Sitting with her two children and friends at an empty table in a Burger King on Saint Nicholas Avenue, Marte reveals her frustration with her situation. “I don’t even want to talk about it,” she said. “Look at us. We are here because we have nothing else to do.”
The downturned economy has forced many young adults to move back into their parents’ homes in order to get by. While many families are back together by necessity, others are by choice.
Jonathan Rodriguez, 23, moved back into his mother’s place to help out after his mother lost the use of her right hand and with it her job. He often fills out paperwork so that his mother can get food stamps. Rodriguez’s income from the Goodwill store on 181st and Amsterdam Avenue is the only financial source for both of them.
“I would never live with anyone else, even with a girlfriend.” Rodriguez said. “I only did it for my mother. She raised me, and it’s my time to take care of her.”