Losing your job is hard enough. It's even harder if you are a single parent. But what about if you are a single parent, trying to raise four children in one of the most expensive cities in the world?
Sabrina Greenwood is one of nearly 200 subway station booth agents who handed in their badges and uniforms last month, the latest victims of Metropolitan Transit Authority's (MTA) financial woes, which have resulted in fare increases and reductions in service.
"I'm sad, I'm hurt, I'm depressed," said the 38-year-old Bronx woman said last month. "I'm trying to figure out how I'm gonna pay September rent [$900], how I'm gonna send my daughter to college as well as buying school clothes."
Greenwood was earning $50,000 as a booth agent. Now she will have to rely on $354 a week in unemployment benefits. She doesn't have to worry about the health insurance for six months — her union is covering that. But she will have to cut back on spending dramatically, especially when it comes to clothing and school supplies for her kids.
And with four kids, it seems as if Greenwood never has enough to cover things like backpacks, binders and the like.
Her daughter Johnesha, 19, was planning on attending an out-of-state university but will now have to stay local. Greenwood also has a son, Jonathan, 16, and two daughters, JonDanea', 12, and five-year-old Jaylynn. Their lives are a constant stream of fieldtrips, science projects, and extra curricular activities that need to be funded.
The Bronx mother is not only upset about her new, unstable financial situation. She is also disappointed because she loved her job and believed she was contributing to keeping the city safe.
"Instead of paying us, they have cameras that don't work, and even when the cameras do work, they record, they are not a preventive measure," she said, adding that MTA workers are a deterrent against crime. "When I am there I can press the button and call the police, call for help."
Greenwood also strongly disagrees with those who think that booth agents used to be overpaid for selling MTA cards, giving information to disoriented tourists, and helping senior citizens.
"When people say, 'you guys are lazy' and 'you make too much,' that's really untrue," she said. "Everywhere else you work you have a clean bathroom, you don't have to worry about the rodents who share the bathroom with you."
The Bronx woman points out that working underground can cause health problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and skin cancer - not to mention the challenges of dealing with frustrated customers.
"We get blamed for everything: the station being dirty, the trains being late, overcrowded trains, sometimes we are just a dumping ground for people who are venting," she said. "We get it all."
Yet Greenwood misses the feeling of being useful, the kind of feeling marching off to work each morning gives.
Sitting at a kitchen table of her Bronx apartment off the last stop of the 5 train on Dyre Avenue, she hardly has any time to drift into the past. She needs to work out a budget and decide what her next move will be.
She is contemplating continuing her education.
"I'm gonna take some time, go back to school," she said. "I'm gonna be a college student with my daughter."
She wants to study business management and get a job in labor relations.
On a recent morning, Greenwood was walking to a movie in Co-op City with her three daughters. Johnesha and JonDanea' had long faces. But the small Jaylynn, her dreadlocks neatly made, was jumping and smiling. She loves having her mom home all week.