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Lives on welfare: I have this incessant need to fight

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – For this installment of Lives on Welfare we meet up with Joanne (not her real name).  Joanne lives in a mid-sized town somewhere in rural Nova Scotia with her three kids, two boys and one girl. Her teenage son has intellectual disabilities and requires special care.

Several years ago she fled an abusive relationship and she has not yet been able to resume a public live, something most of us take for granted. She is on Income Assistance. “I am poor,” she says, “but I budget well.”

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My journey started when I left an abusive relationship. I had a career at the time, but you can’t have a career and be  a single mom without help. I ended up going through women’s shelters, they were great supports in many ways, but again, it’s not a fix all.

Remember, you’re going from one system to another, you’re dealing not just with Community Services, but also with the legal system and all these different aspects of the healthcare system. I bet you many people on income assistance are also accessing mental health services of some kind.

I am raising three children that need me to be capable and in control and to guide them, and they don’t give us the tools to do that either. Not even verbal support.

While I navigated the system things just kept piling up, and it affected all aspects of my life, it affects your mental health, all kinds of things. It seems as if once people know you’re on the system you can’t get anywhere because there is a wall that says you are taken care of, and that you shouldn’t be here because you are capable of working.

I said, you know, this training you put me on isn’t recognized anywhere

When you go to Community Services and you say that you want to work, they push you where they want you to be, rather than where you can get to on your own, which in the long term would have been better.

I went to my employment support worker and asked if I could go back to school. I received post-secondary education, and I wanted to build on that, turn that into a degree. But Community Services wouldn’t agree to that. They told me I didn’t fit the criteria, without ever telling me what those criteria were. So, how are you supposed to know?

The answer Community Services came back with was , we won’t support you doing this, but we will support you doing another program. So I did a secretary program, I had really good marks,

And then I said,  now I am ready to go back to work, but I need support with childcare. All that happened when the cutbacks first started. Community Services cut back on the transportation for my son, who has special needs. All these things were not supportive of me going forward, so I ended up being stuck at home again.

It’s been my experience going through life that you yourself are the best predictor and know what your needs are as a person and an advocate. Yet you are constantly told this is what your needs are, and this is what we are willing to give you. It just doesn’t cut it.

Meanwhile I applied for jobs, with the training program listed on my resumé.  I didn’t get anywhere, I didn’t get any interviews, no callbacks, nothing. So I started asking these employers for some pointers what I could do and write the next time. They told me that they didn’t recognize my training program, they didn’t think people taking that program were capable of joining the workforce.

So I went back to Community Services again, and I said, you know, this training you put me on isn’t recognized anywhere. The employment support worker agreed with me, so I asked why do you push people to take these programs? The response was, well, because they are there… So they just dump everybody, rather than adding to their toolkit.

You are constantly told this is what your needs are

So I went back to them again, I applied to go to Community College, and it took some pushing and flat out refusing to do anything else, and in the end they did support that. I had a great employment support worker, who worked with me, not against me. She supported my decisions, and did what she could to get me childcare, transportation, those kinds of things.  It worked, I graduated with honors, and I had many employment opportunities.

But again, after I finished school, services were removed again, transportation was taken away again, my son’s childcare was taken away again. He doesn’t qualify for transportation because he is seventeen, but he can’t be left unsupervised because of his intellectual disabilities.

It’s very frustrating. It’s been my experience going through life that you yourself are the best predictor and know what your needs are as a person and an advocate. Yet you are constantly told this is what your needs are, and this is what we are willing to give you. It just doesn’t cut it.

I have this incessant need to fight. People who know me tell me that I have been like that since I was a little girl. I am raising three children that need me to be capable and in control and to guide them, and they don’t give us the tools to do that either. Not even verbal support.

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