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Kendall Worth: An update from the world of income assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic

Kendall Worth. Contributed.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Sometimes the people I have written about love to get back in touch to update me on how things are going with them. This time of uncertainty, with COVID-19 going around, turns out to be one of those times.

It is always good to hear from people, even if the news they have is not good news. Lately, the news I’ve been hearing is about how their anxiety has gone up. 

We all, regardless of whether we are rich or poor, sometimes have to make tough decisions, and self isolation and social distancing is for the good of our overall health and the health of the community.

See also: Kendall Worth: How COVID-19 is affecting people on social assistance

As we all know, libraries are closed for the duration. Places like McDonalds, Tim Hortons, and mall food courts are also either closed or offering take out service only. 

These places offer WIFI and sometimes people on low incomes depend on these places for access to WIFI. The cost of having internet at home is not always in the budgets of low income people. Income assistance recipients who have devices they can access WIFI from have been complaining that with all these places being closed, they are not able to access WIFI, and that is making them frustrated and increasing their anxiety.

Some of them tell me that they depend on access to the internet and social media to keep in touch with friends and others they have in their lives for support, people who live far away like out West, Ontario, or even in the States. They cannot afford long distance otherwise.

Many people I advocate for through my journalism live semi-socially isolated lives, so these public health warnings do nothing for them, they say. They do agree that self isolating might be protecting them from catching the virus.  

Well one bit of good news. People on income assistance got an extra $50 on Friday of last week to help with the cost of hygiene during COVID-19. Even though this was a help, that extra $50 was only a drop in the bucket compared to what income assistance recipients really need at this time of uncertainty.

For further reasons why I call this only a drop in the bucket, see this article by my editor: Community Services abandons most vulnerable in time of crisis

One thing that advocates are worried about is what about the ones who are homeless and staying at shelters? 

They cannot do the social distancing because they have to share their sleeping space with other residents they live with. One idea, turn a hotel into a temporary shelter and each homeless person can have their own room so they can follow the public health warnings during this time.

Today, March 22nd 2020, as I write about this very subject, the premier announced a state of emergency. Right now provincial and municipal parks are closed, meaning that for the people I advocate for walks in the parks are no longer going to be an option. Besides the Libraries, soup kitchens, and drop-ins that poor people depend on, the parks and walking trails are often their other life line. This is why the premier’s decision is bad news for those who I advocate for.

Some quick updates:

The young woman in this story, The long hard road of Career Seek for people on social assistance, her classes at Dalhousie are all canceled during this time. She is finding stuff to do at home to keep her from getting bored however.

The young women who I talked about in this story here, Community comes to the rescue for three tenants facing huge rent increases, moved into their new home on March 1st, and they are now looking out for each other. Two out of these three are also off work during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, their employers told them they will get paid their regular wages during thiS time, so they are not losing any income over this.

The single mom I talked about in this story here, When I keep looking for an affordable place to live and not find anything, what can I do? are all happy they found solutions to their housing problems before all these public health warnings started. Otherwise they would not be able to keep safe now.

What’s next?

Let’s hope that a miracle happens and this COVID-19 news will all be over soon!

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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