Recession stories: “I thought I’d end up being the bag lady”


Imagine, if you will, that elderly retiree couple across the street. They have worked their whole lives, and now live in their dream home by the lake, with their pets and each other for company. One day, the husband begins to suffer dementia; with that the hospital bills come in. His wife becomes his caretaker, and is shocked when she receives a hospital bill of $80,000 just for the assessment of his condition. She is not an imaginary person. Corinne Livesay is a senior citizen who, not too long ago, owned a home in White Bear Lake.

Livesay spoke at the town hall forum, “The Road to Economic Recovery,” held at Temple Israel on December 15. The forum was sponsored by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Jewish Community Action, Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, ACORN, Alliance for a Better Minnesota and the YWCA.

Livesay had to sell her house so that her husband could be on medical assistance. She said that, “I did what I had to do… at one point I thought I’d end up being the bag lady.”

She describes how she began to fear opening the mail as it was one medical bill after another. And sometimes she had to sift through information that she barely understood. She says she once received a “two-pound package” with “different healthcare plans” that she had to read through to pick the one that would be most suitable for her husband. Livesay made a plea for a solution to a “broken healthcare system.”

Lynne Kelley offered a different kind of testimony. She had worked for Hennepin County for sixteen years when she was laid off at the end of last year. Kelley was a homeowner for five years when she lost her job. Kelley, who lived with her elderly mother, had to cash out her 401-K to make ends meet.

“I want to know why are homeowners being asked to pay back more money than their house is worth?” she asked. She asked bankers and legislators to figure out how to shorten the time process for loan modification. Loan modification is a change in one or more of the terms of a mortgage that results in a payment the mortgagor can afford.

Sherman Wilburn, who is the Minnesota ACORN board chair, has been homeless at least three times. He lamented irresponsible landlords who do not tell their renters that they are facing foreclosure.

“The landlords keep floating, but don’t alert renters on issues,” he said “… but they continue to take money from you. … No one tells you until the sheriff’s office comes to serve you the papers, and you are evicted.”

Sherman argues that the best way to protect renters is to mandate a 90-day wait for eviction on foreclosures so that renters can look for new homes.

Representative Keith Ellison assured the forum that “there is a possibility of economic reform.. it is in all our hands.” He urged patience as the country sorts through the mess, saying, “It took several years to get us in this crisis… it will not be fixed overnight.

Ellison supports President-elect Obama’s $600 billion stimulus package, saying that, “in an economic recession that is taking a downturn it makes sense for the government to spend money.”

Thirty similar forums are being held all over the country this week.

Nekessa Opoti is the publisher of, a Kenyan online magazine and newspaper and also writes for Mshale, a Minnesota-based African community newspaper.