featured Poverty

Lives on welfare: There‘s no escaping homeless shelters

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – For over 30 years and while living in three different provinces I have experienced oppression both as a taxpayer and as a welfare recipient. Let me tell you about my experiences with the Nova Scotia government. It’s not pretty.

People believe that people are homeless because of addictions or mental illness. But in fact it is often the other way around. I have more than once witnessed how it is homelessness that leads to mental illness. The oppression I am talking about contributes to the increasing rates of poverty and homelessness, and also is a major player in our mental health crisis. One leads to the other.

I have lived in and out of the shelter system in Nova Scotia for a number of years. The first time I needed a shelter for a temporary refuge I was turned away at the door, because at the time I had a full time job.

Photo Huffington Post

Most shelters here are funded by Community Services, and a person must be ‘eligible for welfare’ in order to be able to stay at a shelter. I knew I would be laid off that month, but Community Services forced me to wait another two months because my bank account contained deposits from my employer of the prior three months. As a result I was forced to live on the street. So much for Community Services having your back when you need them most!

Anyway, after two months of crashing anywhere I could find a sofa I am finally on welfare and able to access a shelter. Well, don’t think that being of welfare is a good thing when you are single and hope to find adequate housing.

The shelter allowance for a single employable person like me is $300 a month. That amount will not even rent you a closet this day and age. That amount contradicts the Community Services policy manual that states that its program “strives to provide residents of Nova Scotia who are in need with a level of assistance adequate to meet their basic needs for shelter, food, clothing and personal care.”

On more than one occasion I was approached by shelter staff suggesting I apply for disability as I will receive more money that way. But that is a lure into an even deeper trap. To receive an additional $235 added to my current shelter allowance I can upgrade my living space from a closet to a storage bin. But I am a physically and mentally healthy person and to go down that road I would no longer be true to myself.

I have seen quite a few other people take that route, though, and the adage that you become what you believe you are holds much truth. It begins as depression, and quickly turns them into individuals lacking any interest in life. Depression is simply a booming business for government and big pharma, and all the $535 gives them is a slum unit with Housing Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile people like me are stuck with the $300 shelter allowance, trying to find a place to live in a city that charges at least $600 for a decent unit. Only the mentally strong can survive this ordeal. It begs the question, are we not worthy of adequate housing while we look for work?  Having secure and permanent housing would greatly increase our chances of finding a job, and less stress and anxiety equals greater stability and productivity.

Here is the real kicker.

Each year come budget time the minister of Community Services looks at where she (or he) can make further cuts to the monthly allowance.  This year it was transportation, and many people are losing their bus passes.

As I mentioned, most homeless shelters are funded by Community Services. That means beds, food, shelter upkeep, staff, etc. To house one person in a shelter costs at least $100 per day, or $3000 per month.  To keep 300 people in a shelter for one month, by that reasoning, would cost the government almost one million dollar per month! If the department were to give residents of homeless shelters a monthly allowance of $1500 it would still save half the money it sends on shelters.

So far I have talked about people on welfare, but people on or slightly above the poverty line are also affected by this kind of oppression, with a government refusing to raise the minimum wage to meet the cost of living.

Poverty, homelessness and mental illness are not the problem, they are the result of government oppression to keep the multitudes poor and in debt. It needs to stop.

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One Comment

  1. Absolutely deplorable that our government continues to cut costs where they are needed most.
    Instead taking the increase in pay they should decline and have it distributed to the sources where neededost. And to me it sounds like Community Services sure could use a boost in housing these people who are in dire need.
    They should be made to live on the streets themselves relying on shelters for a month to see what these people have to endure, especially during the winter months.
    So so sad

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