featured Poverty

Lives on welfare: The system traps you from generation to generation

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – We first met Sophia a couple of months ago, and did a Lives on Welfare story about her  efforts to provide for her family while struggling with chronic pain. Here are more of Sophia’s memories about growing up on and off welfare. Unable to afford a computer, Sophia wrote this on her phone, because born story tellers like Sophia will always find a way.

When I was a child my family met with hard times and they had to fall back on the (social assistance) system. They didn’t stay on it for long because they felt the system was a bad place to be.

I can remember my mom crying because there was nothing for Christmas. She had applied for help but they sent her baby stuff. A little used stuffed bunny and a pair of baby mittens and a box of food without even a turkey or fixings. I wanted to make my mom feel better and told her that I would be fine with the baby toy and just to worry about my sister.

My dad was an alcoholic so the responsibilities always fell on my mom. She went to work and left us alone at a very young age. Now you may say that’s abuse, but she had no choice in the matter. She worked for very low wages. And she had two kids to feed.

I didn’t really understand the system at this age but my mom often told me she begged for children’s aid to take us and give us a better life, but was turned away. By the time I was a teen I had it drilled into my head that the system was a very bad and threatening place to be.

I pretty much raised myself because my dad was gone for months. My mom had to leave to work. It wasn’t what she wanted to do, but the system refused her help and held her back. I don’t see my parents as abusive, I see the system as abusive.

My mother had spoken of leaving my dad for many years, but felt she couldn’t. I had made a hope chest in my early teens and I gave her everything I had in my box.  I promised her I’d be OK and told her to go.

My sister had moved out, and the fighting between our parents was too much for me to handle. I was bullied bad in school and had quit and went to work in my teens right around this same time. But when Mom left, dad became more angry and I found myself having to steal his car to protect her. I don’t think he’d ever hurt her, I think he wanted to scare her into coming back. My dad really never laid a hand on my mom or my sister or me.

The system would not help mom and she lived in her car. After a while, between the bullying and threats and protecting my mom and trying to keep up with the bills with no income, I tried to take my life.

I was in a hospital for two months because, it was affecting my liver. While I was in hospital my dad starved my dog and eventually I got out to find her gone. I know this sounds abusive, but it was the alcohol. He couldn’t see past the bottle in front of him.

Social workers promised my mom that if she took me in they would help her. My mom got a one bedroom apartment. I slept in a walk in closet. I didn’t want to interrupt my mom’s life any more then I had too.

My mom applied for help, but was turned down. I had turned 17 and they said I would have to apply myself but when I applied I was turned down saying I was too young. We had multiple meetings trying to get help, with no luck.

I met this guy much older then me and his family took to me. A rowdy crew, but always a place to go.

The man I refer to whose family took me in is the father of my two oldest kids. His aunt was really good to me but the rest of the family would steal from me. They drank, did drugs, had multiple people living there. I had tried to return to school and I worked part time but my depression got worse and doctors saw it as a fear of people. But it wasn’t people I feared, but the things they did.

I was raised to be honest, but sometimes life leaves us in a mess. This was years back but these things all added up to the fear I live in now.

After being through all this, I blame the system for failing me and leaving me in a mess over and over again. I see myself as a victim of the government. When I’m down and out they attack every time.

I’ve learned to tell nobody anything. Trust no one, hide from people, and avoid government as much as possible.

I can’t live off what I get, and I have found myself in positions that bring me to my lowest. I often think of taking my own life, but I refuse meds because I don’t believe I’m chemically imbalanced, as they say. I believe I have been victimized over and over. Pills can’t fix that. Only dealing with the problem will and that’s why even though I live in extreme fear I am speaking out.

I am not afraid of wild animals, of being raped, of being killed. I am not afraid of drug addicts. I’ve faced them all, but I fear living on this system and being on guard 24/7 because they are in control of what little I get to live off and can take at any time.

The system traps you and keeps your family that way from generation to generation. It rips families apart and makes life way harder than it has to be.

I hope somehow my words will someday help someone else. Maybe even my own kids.

See also: Lives on welfare – I was the rock everybody else was leaning on

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