You See Me

You see me there on the streets.
Down-trodden, in need of much needed care.
You don’t know how I got there, nor do you care.
As you see, I fought for your freedom in wars past,
When I returned from the latest mission,
My wife was gone, and so were my kids, as well as all the money.
The house was sold, and all I had was the clothes on my back.
Down the dwindling spiral of depression I sank.
I am now alone, looking for help from strangers whose freedom I fought for

You see me there at the checkout.
Short on change, so I have to put lunch items meant for my kids, when in school, back.
They cry as they watch me do it.
I hear your sighs of dismay, not knowing how it got this way.
You see, my husband left me for another woman.
Now I’m struggling to make ends meet.
Being a mother can be tough, even tougher when alone.
I can’t even afford childcare so I can find a job.
I go days without eating myself so my children can be fed.

You see me glaring through the window of the coffee shop.
Hoping I won’t be coming in looking like I haven’t showered in days.
I know you’ve noticed that worn down apartment building down the street.
I just so happen to live there.
The landlord is cheap with the repairs, and came in one night to my apartment and raped me.
I’m a runaway teen, I was physically and sexually abused by my older brother.
No one believed me because my brother said I was lying when he was confronted.
I feel dirty and ashamed on the inside for the things that were done to me.
I’m considering abortion of the child that resulted from the rape.
All I want is a coffee with the change I found to warm me, even if it’s temporary.

I see you give me dirty looks and evil glares.
Thinking I’m lazy and don’t want to work.
Before you judge, please take time to hear my story, you may be surprised.
No one chooses or deserves a life of poverty.
The circumstances that led to the unwanted situations are as unique as the individual.
Never think it can’t happen to you, because life can be unpredictable.
We’re all people who, at one point or another, are in need of a hand up instead of a hand out.

*This poem was written by a member of ALIV(e) who was willing to share this as a perspective piece of how some people potentially came to live in poverty. Her name is Melissa, and if links to her poetry are wanted, she will post them upon request.

Understanding the cost of poverty

A summary of the article “Poverty costs us billions” by Joe Fiorito (http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/17/poverty_costs_us_billions_fiorito.html)

Living on welfare or disability shows us the meaning of doing without.  Living in a shelter shows us what it means to live without a home.  We understand the dull ache of hunger if we feed ourselves and/or our children from the food bank.

According to Marc Hamel (a money manager), poverty costs us money in several ways.  A study done in Hamilton shows that if you are among the poorest of the poor of the city you tend to die earlier than the rich – about twenty one years earlier.  He says there is a significant economic argument to tackle poverty.  The argument shows that the poorer people end up getting sick more often and stay sick longer than the people who are not poor, and that puts a burden on the health care system.  He quotes that, “Someone living on the lowest end of income earners will use the health care system about 50 per cent more than the average person.  This is as a result of higher stress, poor nutrition, substandard housing, and an unstable social environment.”  “In total, poverty costs the residents of Ontario a staggering $32 billion to $38 billion a year…”

A person who is homeless or can’t afford medication, or lacks a social support network is more likely to end up in the emergency room.  He also noted something that you and I already know.  If you live in poverty as a child, there’s a 20% chance you will live in poverty as an adult.  Some people say it is higher than a 20% chance.  He puts the total cost of child poverty in Ontario at anywhere between $4.6 billion and $5.9 billion a year.

“If we were able to increase the income and participation of the lowest income earners, and raise their incomes to the second lowest income earners, the benefit to the Ontario economy would be over $16 billion a year.”  He also noted that, if we did so, there would be an increase in tax revenues of $4 billion.

The real money quote is, “In total, poverty costs the residents of Ontario a staggering $32 billion to $38 billion a year – the equivalent of over 5% of provincial GDP.  Remember, he is a money manager, smarter than I am about this stuff.

Birgit

Educational Experience

To have the opportunity to access a post-secondary education is often a dream for those living on low income. It is a difficulty to find the proper resources that are available in order to get the funding to pay for such an education when one doesn’t know where to go. To personally have the opportunity of being on a committee (and a student) which makes a program accessible for financially marginalized individuals, is something I’m grateful to be a part of. I have thus far enjoyed going to the various locations where the study groups have taken place; even though I live in Cambridge, and a majority of the course has taken place in Kitchener and Waterloo. The benefit, despite the cost, of having a bus pass has also given me the opportunity to see parts of the Region of Waterloo that I did not know existed before taking the program. It is really an experience that I would gladly take part of again, if the opportunity ever avails itself. I knew coming into the program the various setbacks, and I honestly have no complaints about it, because the program is in the “pilot” stage. I do hope that this course continues, and eventually becomes a credit course, while still giving financially marginalized individuals the opportunity to access some sort of post-secondary education.

Escaping Danger

It’s not very often that one hears the whole story of how an individual ends up on Social Assistance. I do admit that it takes a lot of courage to share such a story. Especially dealing with any form of abuse; whether it is verbal, physical, sexual, or any other kind of abuse that can be named. To be honest, I have struggled to tell my story because the amount of verbal abuse I have encountered in my life. The situation that I was in had escalated to the point that I was literally fearing the verbal threats coming true by means of physical abuse. For a good part of my adulthood I have been dealing with anxiety/depression, being a single female with no kids, not knowing the resources available at the time in order to better handle the anxiety/depression and finding a safer environment that would not push me to the brink of suicide. I was struggling greatly with the medication, keeping a stable job, and the fear of returning to my parent’s place in which my younger brother and I still resided at the time- a little over 3 years now. Yes, my brother was the source of the abuse, which was verbal, and caused me to fear for my safety due to the threats he was uttering at the time. I tried everything in my power to reason with my parents that this was occurring at the time, but they told me practically every line in the book of how I am the oldest, I should know better and handle it. But the problem was I didn’t know how to handle it, other than to commit suicide. Thankfully I was taking a program during the midst of all of it, and gratefully, the co-ordinators of the program helped me get into subsidized housing and aided with the transportation of its humble furnishings. Though the Social Assistance monthly payments are hardly enough to eat properly, there are people such as myself that use it for a hand-up rather than a hand-out to get out of threatening environments.

It Takes Ingenuity to Keep a Sinking Ship Afloat

Have you ever been the captain of a sinking ship?

Believe it or not, this statement sums up one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.

I am writing this essay now as a forty-four year old woman, who has had her share of ups and downs of an adventurous life.  I am a goal oriented person, who loves a challenge.  I am also a hardworking and innovative single mom with a disability at the moment.  I have had many great accomplishments in my life.

My story begins with my struggle to finish high school.  My parents moved a lot, and it was hard for me to stay in the school of my choice.  This was the moment that created my first goal.

I started working when I was twelve. I wanted to own my own home; somewhere I could have roots.  I began saving my money at a young age.  My first job was a major learning curve for me.  I worked at a sign painting shop, one of those shops where everything was done by hand.

I was not very artsy at all, but the boss there had so much faith in me that he made me feel like there was nothing I couldn’t do. With my first working experience, I excelled by leaps and bounds out of my element.   I became a sign painter, my favourite job there was working at Mosport Speedway working on billboards, and painting stripes, and numbers on race cars.

I purchased my own home when I was twenty-one.  I had saved five thousand dollars, and my parents matched the amount; this became my down payment.

I enjoyed being a home owner.  I did not enjoy dealing with banks, insurance companies, lawyers, or real estate agents.

I had another experience at a job that I would like to share with you.

I was hired through a company to work a contract position at a major financial institution.   I worked there for a few years.  The company had an award system for their employees called the “make the difference” award.  They would recognize one of their employees each month.  Although I was not an employee, the company decided that since I was nominated so many times they would make an exception and allow me to receive one of their company awards for consistent excellent performance.  A lot of company employees were not on board with me receiving their company award; being an outsider. They sure were not happy with me when I went on to win the grand prize at the awards night.

The grand prize was a four thousand dollar travel voucher.  I toured Europe’s castles for a month.  What a fabulous adventure that was!  When I came back, I asked for a more challenging position, and a raise.  They did not accommodate me, so I left.

I got a job with an office form company and almost doubled my salary.

I managed to keep my dream of being a homeowner alive for twelve years.

This dream was definitely alive; an entity all of its own.  I believe the house that I bought was hexed.  In my twelve years there I managed to overcome the following:

  • I had two sixty foot tall trees fall on my house.  From this experience I learned how to chop, and pile wood, and how much fun it is dealing with insurance agencies.
  • I had two above ground pools split on me; one while I was sitting on the side. From this I learned just exactly how much water is in a swimming pool, and to never ever, sit on an above ground pool wall again.
  • I had a $12,000 dollar fire that destroyed my garage. I never knew just how brave I could be. I actually crawled about thirty feet under the flames and pulled my neighbour’s 120 pound dog out of its doghouse.  And again, how much fun it is to deal with insurance agencies.
  • I had a tenant that was actually twelve tenants, as she was a multiple personality person. This situation taught me, to never ever be a landlord again.
  • I had two terrible relationships that cost me $25,000 dollars. I will never, ever co-sign a loan for anyone again; or live common-law too long.
  • I was T-Boned in an accident that destroyed my car, and my body.
  • Then to top it all off, I got laid off my job.  These occurrences were all on top of normal every day break-downs.

I can be thankful, though it may seem like there are a few number twelve’s in my story.

My house number was eleven, the house with number twelve address; it was just across a very narrow street … and it blew up.

I did keep overcoming all these obstacles as long as I could because I was determined to keep my dream alive.

I learned how to maintain, and repair my car.  I taught myself how to drywall, paint, and fix shingles; I even learned how to clean my chimney.  Around this time computers were coming alive, I taught myself enough skill to land a few really good jobs.

I was a really great captain. My ship hasn’t sunk yet; it’s in dry docks for overhaul.

Universal Half-Care

A few weeks ago I developed a terrible sore throat and excruciating pain in my ears. I went to the walk-in clinic and received excellent service from the nurses and physician. The doctor identified my ailment as being a sinus infection and then asked me the dreaded question “do you have a drug plan?” Being one of the many who work on contract, part-time or other forms of unstable employment, my answer was of course “no”. I was then left with the decision: do I buy the prescribed antibiotics or try to tough it out with endurance and a bit of the considerably-cheaper-than-antibiotics generic ibuprofen. Recently recovering from being a student with a very limited budget, and being used to going without prescription drugs, dental coverage and other ‘luxuries’, I opted for the latter.

It was the wrong choice.

A few days later, the infection had gotten so bad that it was unbearable. Although I resigned myself to spend the money and actually get the medication, I was still in such bad shape that I was driven to bed-rest for two days, with a couple additional days of normal recovery afterwards. It was terrible and all could have been prevented if I would have purchased the antibiotics in the first place.

Now the thing is, at this point I could actually afford the necessary drugs, but I just didn’t. Unfortunately for many in our province and across our country, that is not the case. Instead of being an annoying expense, the cost is an impossibility and they are forced to go without; or they must make the choice between paying for the medication or for groceries or the hydro bill.

Why are things like prescription drugs not covered by OHIP? What about dental? Why did Ontario cut funding for both vision and chiropractic care in 2004?[1] Why is effective physiotherapy limited by age?  All of these services, although vital to one’s health, have been treated as optional. They are only available if one has the money to pay for them. That is NOT universal healthcare.

We may have great doctors, that can diagnose any ailment, but without people being able to access the medication required to treat that ailment, the diagnosis becomes irrelevant. The service is only half complete. When we ignore things like dental, physiotherapy, chiropractic care and vision we resort to treating only half of one’s body. Why are we satisfied with this? You don’t buy a car, then not fill it with gas. You’d get an ‘F’ in school if you only completed half of a report. You’d look pretty silly if you went walking around wearing only one shoe. We wouldn’t settle for any of these things;  why do we settle for half-health care?

Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the health care that we do have in Canada. I recognize that we are fortunate to have high-quality care accessible to all Canadian residents, unlike many countries around the world, even including our wealthy neighbour to the South. However, I think we should still be seriously looking at the holes in the system and actively trying to reach the potential level of excellent and truly universal health care that I know we can achieve if we are willing to invest in it.  Reducing the cost of health care should start here.

A First Step

The changes in the Ontario budget regarding Ontario Works (OW) is a step in the right direction, but more still needs to be done.  The budget says that people receiving OW can keep more earnings from their employment without losing their benefits, which is a very good thing.

I’d like to see changes that will support people who are moving towards full-time work to receive financial and benefit support for a longer period of time once they get a full-time job. Allowing people to work without a reduction of benefits will help them feel more secure that they will succeed in their employment and in life.  This means that they should be able to keep even more of their earnings as they begin to move out of poverty, and still have financial and benefits support.  A gradual decrease of funds beginning after six months of employment is the way to go. Benefits, however, should stay for longer.

The journey has just begun.

Teri-Lee