Rita Douglas, 62, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in a marginal, sometimes dangerous neighborhood near Cincinnati, OH. (Names and details have been changed to protect the participants.) A proud woman with ramrod straight bearing and a broad smile, she would be mortified to have people discuss it but she recently won a fight with bedbugs that entered her home by way of relatives who needed a place to stay. She replaced her beds, sofa, curtains and “anything hanging.” By her own description, her family life is “chaotic.”

Though she barely has enough money and resources to support herself, Rita regularly helps her children, nieces and nephews, and other relatives and friends. This help takes many forms: sharing her home, cooking dinners, washing clothes, offering the use of her credit card, buying alcohol and cigarettes, protecting cash and providing basic supplies like toilet paper. Late in the month, when Rita runs out of money, she receives the same type of help right back, often from the same people. This cycle is not without suspense – sometimes no one has funds on hand. It would be easy to characterize Rita as a woman who is struggling, but her resourcefulness and resilience tell a different story. By taking advantage of a combination of free and discounted community resources, and by engaging in a constant give-and-take with a large network of friends and relatives, Rita gets by.

Read about Rita Douglas in the full case study.