Voices of Poverty

Personal Low Income Tales

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Getting Off Welfare
Submitted anonymously to Sound, a magazine for social justice in Kamloops BC

So, here you are. All your life you have been self-sufficient and now you find yourself in this place. Feeling a little ashamed, perhaps? Voices whispering in your ear, ‘What’s the matter, loser, can’t you find a job?’ No, not yet? Well, while you wait, let me tell you about some of the experiences that are coming your way. Never been treated as if you were a despicable liar? This service is provided at intake and with each subsequent visit to your local Ministry office. Ask your case worker. Never been denied basic healthcare or banking services before? This will happen automatically once your source of income identifies you as a welfare recipient. Try to remember that after the first tooth rots in your jaw, any future abscesses won’t hurt nearly as much. And once you start losing teeth, you won’t much want to be seen anywhere in public, let alone a bank, so the two problems tend to cancel one another out as time goes by. Be patient. Never smelled bad because you couldn’t find a place to wash? It will come. It may even begin to amuse you to offend the noses of polite company. In any event, you won’t find many other sources of amusement in your price range. Remember this when passersby curse you for being lazy as you sit on the sidewalk with nowhere else to go. It will help to ease the sting. Can’t understand welfare legislation? In fact, this is not really a problem. Your case worker probably doesn’t, either, and anyway, the legislation is changed so often that if you just wait a few weeks none of it will apply to you. This is the beauty of the system. Troubled by untreated mental health problems? Don’t be concerned. Poverty will weaken your ability to cope with reality so much that you eventually won’t be able to grasp the seriousness of your own situation. Poor nutrition will accelerate this process. If nothing else, remember that there is one service the BC government provides with no questions asked. If you die on the street your body will be promptly removed and cremated. Something about the idea of having decomposing bodies lying out on the street seems to prompt immediate action. You’ll have finally found your way off welfare. Rest easy, old friend, your troubles are at an end.

Life on Welfare
By Meg

There isn’t much they do for you except give you the means to forget you’re poor for 48 hours; then you’re right back where you started with nothing but six cushions to sleep on and a cardboard box for a bedside table. i wake up in the morning and i know that if i open the fridge, all i’m going to see is my 27-year-old roommates’ vinegar bottle jostling for space with the mustard, ketchup, and Metamucil. his clean needles are on the coffee table. i’ve been living on mr. noodles for two weeks. so i roll myself a cigarette out of the butts in the giant stolen ashtray which is probably the nicest thing in the apartment. is there any money left? i spent it on groceries ‘ the $60 i had left ‘ and my roommates ate everything but the fucking mr. noodles. nobody in my place bothers to change clothes before we go to bed anymore, because we can’t afford food and laundry. i smell like two months of cigarettes and three peoples’ body odour. anybody want to hire me? i didn’t think so. Finishing my cigarette, nobody else is awake yet. the only two bathrooms on my floor are occupied. i go outside in the hall to wait for one to clear out, and notice the stream of water leaking from under one bathroom and under the wall, into my roommates’ room. hadn’t we complained about that last month? we had after it ruined one of our mattresses’ nothing happened. waking jack up to tell him that his bed is being wet by someone’s shower waste doesn’t have much point. it happens every day anyways it’s time to go out and pan for food and smokes. the fourth of April 2002, already i’m back where i started. I don’t really know what the easy solutions to the manifold problems of Social Assistance and Affordable Housing are. The system is dysfunctional, true, but I don’t believe that’s the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is that the people who establish the system don’t care about those segments of the population the system is put in place to help. We cannot fit people to an in inadequate budgeting system. A single mother on welfare needs help, far more than she gets from the government. And our government says it cares about the children. A 19-year-old welfare mother is in many ways still a child. She needs help to finish her education so she can work effectively, but how will she put her child in day care when there are no subsidized day care spots available, and a non-subsidized spot is roughly $17,000 a year? That’s more than welfare GIVES the single mother a year in the first place! Whose problem is that? According to the welfare offices, the single mother’s. Isn’t being 19, a mother, living alone and needing an education enough to handle? Well, no. No, it isn’t. Because the government doesn’t need smart people. We might change something unexpectedly if we rose above the subsistence level. And THAT is a governmental concern.

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