3 Long Islanders hit hard by the recession

Didine Desrosiers helps her 7-year-old daughter Geraldine with

Didine Desrosiers helps her 7-year-old daughter Geraldine with homework. Desrosiers, 39, a single mother of three living in Elmont, doesn't want to rely on food stamps and Medicaid but does anyway because "I don’t want to be on the street, you know. I have to swallow my pride." (Sept. 19, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

As the impacts of the recession linger, thousands of Long Islanders have plunged into poverty. Here are three stories:

Lincoln and Wendy Johnson

The Johnsons, married 17 years, once lived comfortably with their children in a modest ranch home in East Patchogue. Today, the family's address is a homeless shelter.

Their troubles began when Lincoln Johnson, 44, lost his job as an assistant principal in December 2006.

"That was really the downward spiral," said his wife, Wendy, 38. "In previous years, he would leave a job and get another job right away."

This time, his hunt for work hit a brick wall -- a tanking economy. She calls it their "deer in the headlights" moment.

The family initially relied on the generosity of friends as their savings dwindled. Soon they joined the growing ranks of the uninsured. Then came foreclosure.

"At first I didn't contact [Suffolk] social services because I've always worked," Lincoln Johnson said.

The family finally relented, signing up for Medicaid, food stamps and other aid. Twice they were forced to move into a shelter, most recently in April.

Johnson, who still holds a part-time job helping students prepare for the SAT and Regents exams, has tried selling insurance and running a cleaning service, but nothing has panned out.

His wife, who had been a stay-at-home mom caring for six children, did her best to help out. She drove a school bus for a time while pregnant with their youngest child. Later, she went back to college, majoring in business management. She expects to graduate from Dowling College in December.

Wendy Johnson talks today about surviving, about faith in God, about hope for a better future. "You can't look at your circumstances and let it define who you are," she said.


 

Jennifer Grinberg

She's behind on her rent. Her electric bill is long overdue.

Grinberg, 61, is increasingly desperate, and all because of an injury suffered on the job in 2008, the first year of the recession. The door-to-door saleswoman fell down some steps, injuring her back.

"I have no more resources at this point, aside from $150 a week in worker's comp," said Grinberg, who lives alone.

While she has received heating oil assistance from the Nassau Department of Social Services, Grinberg is worried. She wonders how long she'll be able to stay in her Seaford house, how long the power will stay on.

"I'm at my wits' end," she said.

Grinberg said she wanted to speak out to encourage others who have fallen on hard times to seek help from state and local agencies -- if only to navigate through a mind-numbing bureaucracy.

As for her own future, she just hopes to break through somehow, and find another job.

"I'm a fighter," she said. "I'll find a way and, God willing, I'll get back on my feet."


 

Didine Desrosiers

When her marriage crumbled, Desrosiers, 39, left her job as a nurse's assistant at a New Jersey hospital.

She and her three daughters moved to Elmont to be closer to relatives. That was nearly three years ago, at the start of the recession.

Since then, she's been forced to accept a lower-paying job, earning $11 an hour at a nursing home. A second job as a school bus monitor, plus child support, barely kept the family afloat.

But that ended recently when the second job fell through. Behind on her rent, she turned to the Family and Children's Association for help.

"It's not something I'm proud of," Desrosiers said of her current reliance on food stamps and Medicaid. "I don't want to be on the street, you know. I have to swallow my pride."

For Desrosiers, a Haitian immigrant with permanent residency status, the worst part is the uncertainty.

"I'm not worried about myself," she said. "I'm worried about my kids."

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