Sanitary napkins, food, new car tyres: it all becomes too expensive for many residents of the L-flat

Cynthia Dickhoff (30), resident of the L-apartment in Zeist-Noord and single mother of Jax (3), looked after elderly people with dementia in a nursing home. But the corona era cut it off, one resident after another died, and sometimes she wanted something else. Medical assistant, it seemed nice to her, and in the spring of 2022 her education started, for which she also got an internship in general practice in her apartment block. Her income naturally dropped from 1,700 to an “apprentice salary” of 1,000 euros net per month, and her misfortune was that just then everything became astronomically much more expensive. She had to let the bill for Ziggo and the car insurance run for a month and she started losing weight due to stress. She wasn’t that hungry, and besides, she’d rather Jax eat enough.

How do you get around, Jeroen?
“Yeah right”

She persevered, the training was great fun, but phew, then the dental bill, then the apartment rent again: her weeks looked more and more like rounds in a frustrating game of Monopoly – street after street of menacing red hotels, and she hoped for ‘Chance ‘. Cynthia knew that the tires on her Volkswagen Golf were worn, they said at the last inspection that they would not last long, but yes, she passed the MOT and how much do four new tires cost. The right rear tire gave way with a bang when she was driving 100 kilometers per hour with Jax in the back in the left lane of the A28 in June. The cab shook, the car swerved, but Cynthia managed to park on the right side of the road. The car was on the verge of a lack of emergency lanes and guardrails, but the panic she felt, as her mother immediately noticed in her phone voice, did not even originate from the unsafe place along the road. How expensive she said crying, I am not a member of the ANWB and can’t even afford a valve cap! “We’ll fix it, girl, don’t worry,” said her mother, who lives in an apartment in Kanaleneiland in Utrecht.

Cynthia has been at the food bank for about eight weeks now. She was afraid she would run into local residents who had seen her behind the doctor’s desk earlier in the day. It didn’t happen, and now it doesn’t matter anymore, because who doesn’t have a hard time these days. And she dropped out anyway. It just didn’t work anymore. She cares for elderly people with dementia. The food bank provides great relief.

Donated items on the sidewalk in front of Weggevenwinkel, close to the L apartment in the Vollenhove neighborhood. Photo Daniel Niessen

All social rent

NRC portrayed dozens of residents of the L apartment in Zeist during 2020, and has returned to write about the impact of the unprecedented inflation. “Dramatic”, that was the summary of the Central Planning Office’s economic estimate recently. Almost one in ten children is at risk of growing up in poverty.

Such problems are particularly widespread in the L-apartment, which is located in the Vollenhove district along the A28 noise barrier. The apartment is an L-shaped colossus with thirteen floors, eight verandas and 728 front doors, all social rent. A quarter of households live on social assistance, and many single parents and status holders live there. Until a few years ago, the apartment had an indoor food bank, and on Wednesdays, the walking house in the apartment provides a meal for 4 euros for those who want it. The central heating systems in the apartments run on natural gas, but the energy bill is not the problem, the agreement is fixed until the end of 2023, and due to a renovation – which is still ongoing – two thirds of the households now cook. electric. The problem is that many residents already had little or no financial margin before 2022.

Now the woman no longer takes sanitary napkins to the pantry, but takes them out

Jeroen cycles along the short end of the flat, a man in his late forties with a shaved skull and not an ounce of excess. He was homeless for a few years before he ended up in the apartment, gets a weekly budget from an administrator and goes from job to job to earn extra. He was briefly without, and although he has scrubbed the floors of a hospital mechanically for two weeks, until the end of this month he is painfully short of money. So how do you get around? “Yes, no”, says Jeroen. In the Jumbo, he searches the shelves for free food. The supermarket is handing out products with expiry dates today, he says. “Look at it.” He takes out his cell phone and shows a picture of food on his table. Two large bags of green beans, a watermelon, soup dumplings, wild salmon, spicy ground beef, marrow bones, pink cakes. “Everything for free!” He is now also going to Jumbo again. “Mazzzzzzle!” And smiling, he cycles away as always.

In a small room in the hostel, sixty-one Gerrit from porch 2 tells us that he dumps his tub of washing-up water into a small bucket with a lid, which he keeps for toilet flushing. Koesie Awetie (59) of Veranda Three says he saves on “travel”. Travel where? “To Utrecht Central.”

Photo Daniel Niessen

Head in the sand

A few hundred meters from the L-apartment is Weggevenwinkel, where customers can go every Wednesday for free clothes, shoes, bedding, furniture and much more. It has become busier in recent months, and this Wednesday too, people are waiting behind a crushing barrier along the edge of the forecourt. The people waiting are neighborhood residents, people from the wider area and Afghans who fled the Taliban last year and ended up at a reception site in Zeist. The shop opens at 11 a.m. and “sometimes there are already sixty people waiting,” says volunteer Marischka Verbeek (67). “People are afraid that others will push on.” She introduced a system of paper numbers. “The idea is: I point to numbers one through six, and then we all go in, ten minutes per group.” Only people often don’t wait for her signal and they like to keep their number for a week. “So I think I’ll do a different color every week.”

A woman in a blue blouse and gray hair in a ponytail walks out of the Giveaway store. Her name is Anneke and she is in her sixties. She opens her Lidl bag and shows what she brought: a zebra-print shirt, a T-shirt with flowers and two slipper-like loafers, which she calls “clogs”. “I don’t buy shoes in the normal store anymore. One hundred euros for a pair. Then I think: well now well now well now!” She lives in Utrecht, she says, this is the first time in six months that she has been here again. “Because I thought that bus costs 4 euros. At least.” This morning she cycled one and a half kilometers from Utrecht East to a bus stop on the outskirts of the city closest to Zeist. “It can save a zone.” And her energy bill? Honestly, she doesn’t know. “I bury still my head in the sand.”

Ellis Jacobs (33), an experienced care worker, started a ‘food cupboard’ further down in Zeist-Noord in February this year for anyone who could not cope, such as those who fall just outside the food bank’s criteria. The cupboard is the dining variant of the bookcases in many Dutch streets. You get some and you take some if you can. Pasta and bread, rice and long-life milk, tinned beans and always in a basket on the top shelf. The wooden cabinet is on the pavement in front of her house, a few minutes by bike from the L-apartment.

Photo Daniel Niessen

‘Then I don’t eat myself’

I badly need the cupboard, says a woman in her twenties on the phone. She wants to remain anonymous, it is sensitive. She and her daughter live with her mother in a single-family house in Zeist. Her mother’s energy bill went from 275 to 435 euros, and she herself was rejected due to illness. She is “absolutely devastated”. One more week to the deposition of her Wajong. How often does she go to the pantry? “Weekday.” Is there always enough for dinner? “Sometimes, not always.” Also? “Then my daughter eats first. If there is nothing left, I will not eat myself.” If necessary – and emergency aid is taken care of – she calls Ellis Jacobs. Then he arranges an extra bag of groceries or a gift card for the supermarket of around 25 euros via donors.

Sympathetic, a food cupboard for people in need, thought an L-housing resident (37) when she heard about it. She cycled down there and put sanitary napkins and cans of soup in it. She herself had had a good income for years thanks to a job in the event and festival industry. Due to corona, her work had come to a standstill, that is, and after an infection she remained tired and short of breath. It hasn’t gone. Climbing stairs is a drama. She now also receives Wajong. She is a single mother – “with good alimony, not of that”. She also wishes to remain anonymous, her name is known to the editors.

Her income dropped and everything became more expensive. Groceries, gas and her ten-year-old daughter. “It’s going to be expensive,” she says dryly on the couch in her apartment. She can no longer just buy clothes on sale for her daughter, because “Mrs has taste.” And it gets breasts, it has to have a bra around it. There must also be menstrual fluid.”

Now the woman no longer takes sanitary napkins to the pantry, but takes them out. Now she says: “I don’t understand why those things are not reimbursed from the basic package.” She still puts food in it, last week another box of pies, but also takes food out once a week – fresh bread, tinned vegetables, a bag of sugar snap peas.

She continues to be surprised by the reality she finds herself in. That she is suddenly afraid that things will break. She no longer slams the car door hard and tells her daughter, “No fingers on the screen!” Her washing machine can still break, she has no more margin. She has recently submitted an application for her daughter’s sports to the youth foundation sport & culture in Zeist municipality. The request was granted. Fine of course. But most of all, she thought, “Oh, that’s it. I qualify for such a fund.”

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