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Living with little in the nation's poorest city

By Dwayne Parker, Reporter, DParker@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 09 2012 06:00:00 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 10 2012 04:23:41 AM CST

Hope appears to be running thin for many people in Reading, trying to survive in the nation's poorest city.

READING, Pa. -

Hope appears to be running thin for many people in Reading, trying to survive in the nation's poorest city.

And for residents like Efrain Zabala, that means celebrating your 54th birthday with no frills, and in a house with no heat.

"Well, to tell you the truth," said Efrain, "I'm so used to it."

Efrain's brother, Edward, sleeps in the back room with a few pieces of thin plastic covering the windows. He does have a very small electric heater on the floor, but it still is not enough.

"I sleep with all this on [clothes], and I put three blankets on," said Edward.

The Zabala brothers live on McKnight Street, in Reading. There is no hot water, and they said making ends meet is a challenge.

"You better believe it. A big task," said Edward.

"You got to take the good with the bad for now. There's no choice," said Efrain.

Edward said he has not been able to find full-time work for a while.

Efrain is on disability and walks with a cane. Despite the physical impairment, he explained he is determined to finish making the repairs around the house so he can sell the home. It could mean more desperately needed income. But there is just one obstacle.

"You know a lot of people ain't buying houses," said Efrain.

Efrain and Edward's struggle with poverty is hardly unique in the city of Reading. According to the U.S. Census, Reading has the largest percentage of people living in poverty in the nation.

Just down the street from the Zabala brothers lives Felicity Lord.

She was laid off from her job several days before Christmas.

"It's going to be hard to pay the bills. Then we'll get behind," said Lord. "Then we got to play catch up."

She said if she had the chance to speak with the new Mayor of Reading, Vaughn Spencer, she knows exactly what she would ask for.

"Better paying jobs, something you can live on," said Lord.

The Zabala brothers said they are not asking for much either.

"Just to live, live naturally and comfortably. You know what I mean?" said Efrain.

"A nice little apartment would do for me," said Edward. "Yeah a nice little apartment. You know? Where I can live comfortably, you know, bring my brother with me."

On Tuesday night 69 News will air an exclusive interview with Reading's newest mayor, Vaughn Spencer, who says he has a plan to bring jobs to the city of Reading.