Putting a human face on poverty: Interview #1

This week as part of my welfare food challenge I’m talking to people from my community who’ve lived in poverty. The first is a woman I’ve known for a number of years: we conducted our interview over facebook. She wants to be anonymous, so let’s call her “Marie.” First the questions: 1. How would you describe yourself (age, gender, family situation, cultural background, etc). 2. How often/when were you on Welfare or homeless? what were the causes? 3. How did you cope for feeding yourself/family? Did you at all rely on foodbanks, donations (from friends or family) or organizations (church, transition homes, free meals on holidays) 4. Do you think people on welfare have enough money under the current system? 5. What do you think of the Welfare Food Challenge? 6. Anything else you’d like to add? – Clint Burnham

1.) I am a middle-aged woman of mixed ancestry – Native, Japanese, and Irish. I am a mother of one biological son and stepmom to two teenage boys. I live common law with my partner on a farm in Central Saanich. I am a recovering alcoholic.

2.) My first involvement with Income assistance was in 1995 when my paternity EI ran out and I was raising my one year old son on my own and decided to go back to college. I was accepted for low income housing and went to school full-time and had a day care subsidy for him to complete my prerequisites. After completing one year of school I began working and was not on assistance again until I was 40 years old and fleeing an abusive relationship with my son’s then-stepfather. The first time I left him it was a very orchestrated and planned escape that involved my son and was the beginning of numerous separations and reunions. I had given up my career to follow his and had suffered some serious health problems for two years, which caused me to become more and more financially dependent upon him. Through the course of our five-year relationship I believe he extremely controlling and an emotionally/mentally abusive partner. He was also a marijuana addict. The third time we fled our home with him I had to resort to staying in a transition house for women as we had nowhere else to go and had no money or means to get a place and it was next to impossible to afford the first month’s rent and damage deposit with what social services was providing. I also had a dog and cat to consider with moving; as my son was adamant that we not give them up for adoption. I was adopted when I was 6 mths old and lived with my adoptive family till the age of 17 and then my adoptive mother passed away suddenly when I was 22. I found my birth family at the age of 26. Although I have a lot of “family” members at this point in my life – I feel somewhat “estranged” from all of them.

3.) While on assistance I was a regular at the local foodbanks- found them quite useful for free bread on a bi-weekly basis – and especially with signing up for hampers at christmas time- which usually included a turkey with all the trimmings… the only thing really missing at most foodbanks was fresh produce and fresh safe meat- so usually opted for canned salmon and tuna as they
preserved better and felt better about eating it. The offerings at different foodbanks seemed to really vary from place to place depending on the demographic of people living in the area. for example; Duncan food bank had a daily soup and sandwich program and daily offerings of close to or expired breads and baked goods- but the actual size and quality of the individual hampers varied quite extremely for a single person vs. a single mother- the hamper for a single person was quite sparse. Also, it did not offer very much. Whereas the food bank in Sidney, BC – was amazing at how much stuff they offered and the quality of the food included- even for a single person – milk, eggs, cereals, specialty items etc… TRANSITION HOUSES – surprisingly a great place to make sure you and your child are eating well with the proper nutrition but again varied tremendously on the location of the house, the management and I suppose their funding…. could go from one place letting residents write on a shopping lists what their specific wants or needs were to only having the option of what was there and what management purchased or was donated. For the most part in women’s transition houses, the residents sign up for a cooking program and a required to cook one dinner a week and have chores designated to them as a requirement to stay there. I found a lot of women in these places seemed to confuse the fact that the place was not a bed and breakfast but for the most part run on donations and limited funding sources. I think staff and volunteers at these places should be responsible to bring their own meals to reduce the costs associated with sometimes quite “elaborate” large and excessively expensive dinners.

4.) I do not believe that people on assistance currently have enough money through the system- particularly with the cost of housing. Or when they have to find housing that accommodates children and pets appropriately. For the most part- the maximum contribution from social services WILL NOT cover the rent and utilities and leaves the recipient using their “support” money to cover
these costs- therefore having to RELY on foodbanks and community services to actually survive for the month. I think it would be better for ALL recipients, not just persons with a PWD (Persons with Disabilities) designation or PPMB (Persons with Persistent Multiple Barriers) designation to be allowed to claim $500 in employment income- this would help those on the system to reenter the workplace and to be able to manage bills much more effectively and potentially move into full time employment and GET OFF THE SYSTEM.

5.) I think the Welfare Food challenge is a fantastic initiative that should have been done a long time ago to help the government in designing a system that actually works for people in need of help so that poverty does not perpetuate poverty – I also think that substance abuse and addictions are a symptom for many people on the system facing the brutal reality of “risk of homelessness,” feeling like an inadequate parent who cant support their children properly and feeling of being lost or stuck with no hope for the future- alcohol and other substances are a temporary means of getting a quick release or numbing of the feelings associated with poverty – but unfortunately the money and energy lost on this way of coping only makes things worse and brings forth more complicated mental health and physical health problems that in turn cost the government more money in services and programming.

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