Instead of starting at the beginning of my journey into poverty, I think I’ll start right now.
My current situation is that I’m on income assistance and have been for the last 8-months. Which, quite frankly, is about 7-months longer than I thought I’d be on it. I am currently working part-time, about 50-60 hours/month.
Our expenses are very basic – rent, utilities, bus pass for my daughter to get to/from school, cell phone, internet, cat food and groceries. I don’t drink or smoke, am not addicted to drugs and no longer have a car, cable or a credit card.
For a single mom and child, the government allows for $945 per month, which is what my rent is for the 3-bedroom ground floor suite I live in just off Commercial Drive. There are all kinds of reasons for deductions, but for me, my child support and any income I make over $200 reduces that initial $945/month. Before I got my part-time job in October, I was receiving about $801/month. However, the income I now make from my part-time job cancels out any income assistance I might have received. It’s impossible to get ahead.
In the last 20-years, social assistance rates have decreased. As we live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, the amount available to a single parent and child is ludicrous. The breakdown allows you to put $375 of that total towards rent and to use the remaining $570 to pay for a month’s worth of groceries and bills, etc. Finding a place to live somewhere in the Lower Mainland that’s a decent, safe place to live for $375 is unrealistic.
As with many issues in life, a genuine understanding of the issues cannot be fully comprehended without first-hand experience. For years I’ve seen people begging for money near Skytrain stations and line-ups out the door on Welfare Wednesday, but rarely did I think too much on how those people ended up there. For some, it’s the only life they know. For others, it’s an appalling, humiliating, exhausting experience. For me, it’s my current reality and damned if I’m going to let it swallow me whole.