KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This story is about a common-law couple named Lori and Dave (not their real names).
Both Lori and Dave have disabilities and are on income assistance. Both of them have part time jobs, Lori works 18.5 hours a week and Dave works 20 hours a week. Even though they get to keep a portion of their employment income, they still have problems making ends meet.
Lori gets laid off during the summer. Community Services tells her to collect Employment Insurance and that gets claw-backed from her income assistance at 100%.
Both have been diagnosed with dyslexia. Also Dave has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Lori experiences mild forms of depression and anxiety.
Anyway, Lori and David live their lives not feeling like an ordinary couple.
As many of my stories show, often people who are on income assistance suffer from extreme social isolation. And it’s not just people who are single, even some common law couples who are on income assistance suffer from this.
In Lori and Dave’s case, they only get a break from each other when they go to their part time jobs. Lori has the summer off from her job, so she goes to the drop-ins and soup kitchens where the poor people go during the summer months. Dave also goes to these places, but on his days off. He works three days a week at his part time job.
The couple pays $750 for rent of their one bedroom apartment. Then their Nova Scotia Power bill is $60 a month. So that is $810 a month out their overall money they have to live on. Then to top that, their phone bill with an unpublished number comes to $64 a month. So that comes to $874 a month. They do not get the $35 telephone allowance sometimes covered as a special need by Community Services.
Lori and Dave both told me, “Kendall, we feel we can relate to every story you have written in the Nova Scotia Advocate in one way or another.”
“We mean, think about this, Kendall. Besides going to our part time jobs, low income leaves us no choice but to depend on the soup kitchens and drop-ins to get out of our apartment and even try to have a life. We use the food bank just like most income assistance recipients do.”
With the exception that Dave goes to his part time job for a few hours on Saturday morning we have the rest of the Saturday, Sunday and holidays to ourselves.
One of the things they do to pass these long periods of being cooped up in their apartment is play video games. Dave was telling me that he has video game systems and cartridges that he saved from when he was teenager.
Also they were telling me that have DVD player and a televisions which they got second hand from their GST checks. On Saturday morning Lori will go to the library and rent DVDs.
Also, they tell me that they will go out for long walks when the weather is nice and if they feel up to it.
“We do not have friends who we can invite over to our place and we do not have friends who invite us over to visit them. The soup kitchens and drop-ins where the poor go are closed on weekends and holidays,” they say.
“We feel that on Easter and Thanksgiving we get to the point where we feel are tired of each other and cannot do anything about it.”
“As for Christmas, we sleep that holiday away.”
“Also Kendall, those stories wrote in the Nova Scotia Advocate about getting a ride home from the hospital following surgery… We feel lucky that what you talked about in those stories never happened to us. Say if this was ever to happen to us, we worry about how we are going to make those arrangements due to us not having any financially better off friends in our community who are able to drive. We do not have good relationships with our families either.”
“In those Nova Scotia Advocate articles where you wrote about summer time fun and New Years Eve, well, we tend to literally avoid the free events here in HRM because we worry about running into people we know who will judge and stigmatize us for being income assistance recipients.”
“Overall, having limited means we have no money to enjoy what ordinary couples take for granted like going out on the town, going out on dates, and keeps us from engaging in social activity.”
Lori and Dave say that they lost hope.
They both dream of a better life but dealing with the bureaucratic nonsense of Community Services, they do not see it possible.
Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.
With a special thanks to our generous donors who make publication of the Nova Scotia Advocate possible.
You’re not alone. All of us on ESIA feel beaten down and most times, hopeless.
I wake up every day with a massive panic attack. The only thing that snaps me out of it is to grab the remote, which I have at my bedside, and turn on the TV. Sometimes I forget to put the remote by the bed and I have to calm myself down by telling myself that it will just be a few minutes before I can get myself out of bed and across the room of my bachelor apartment to get the remote. For me, a TV is a necessity, not a luxury.
Free movies from the library are one of life’s few pleasures when you’re on assistance. And when you have a mobility issue, as I do, you get them delivered to your home every three weeks. Of course this means you have to have a TV and a disc player.
My 25 year old tube TV was about to conk out so I started saving my Air Miles, which I collect from buying groceries at Sobeys. It took over 2 years to have enough Air Miles to redeem $300. So because I had $300 in free groceries over about a two month period, I used that money to buy a TV. Voila! A free TV! Yes, I could have bought something else with that $300 but the therapeutic benefit of watching movies, TV series, and the three free OTA channels I get with an antenna was worth it.