KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The other day I was approached by Nathan (not his real name). Nathan is on welfare and uses the mental health system. His parents have passed away and there is nobody in his life to support him. He came to me with his story because he saw the types of things I report on through my journalism for the Nova Scotia Advocate.
Although Nathan’s sister lives nearby she will not make time for him to spend quality time together as brother and sister, other than on some holidays. Hearing this did not surprise me because many income assistance recipients tell me this about their families. To me this is sad.
Nathine receives the standard $950 in social assistance from Community Services. In addition he receives: $81 for special diets, and the $40 telephone allowance, which makes it $1071 per month in total.
He also receives a $381 housing subsidy from Housing Nova Scotia. His rent is $900 a month. This means he has to pay the amount of $619 a month out of his income assistance cheque.
Then he has his power bill, with electric heat included his bill is $130 a month on budget billing. $619 plus $130 = $749 a month. Then of course his $40 telephone bill goes directly on his phone. $749 plus $40 = $789.
That gives him $282 left over for groceries and personal hygiene products, and so forth.
Out of that leftover $282 is the cost of a cab ride home from the grocery store once a month. The nearest grocery store is not within walking distance from where he lives and there is only so much you can get home on the bus. Community Services will not cover that cab ride as a special need because they consider it general shopping.
So therefore he has to pay out of that $282 left over from his allowance $20 for the cab ride. So he really only has $262 left over.
Nathan lives with bipolar disorder and is on medication for it. There have been times within the past 10 years that he was an in-patient at the Abby Lane mental health unit, and he is happy about the fact that it has been two years or more since the last time he was there.
In addition to not being happy with Community Services he is also not happy with mental health support he receives.
“In a nutshell, Kendall, every time I complain to the mental health professionals about my life being socially isolated they behave like they want to do nothing to help me or give me guidance,” he said.
Nathan went on to tell me about things he would like to see changed in his life. We both agreed that that $100 a month increase in the income assistance rates was just a drop in the bucket of what we really need to live on.
Even though both the $100 increase plus the housing subsidy help, being able to afford social activities like a fitness center, or to join a sports team, is still out of the question with his budget.
He sometimes wonders if the real reason why his sister who only lives 15 minutes away from his apartment won’t see him is because she is a believer in the welfare stigma talked about in this story here: Kendall Worth: Ignorant ideas about welfare I hear a lot
I asked Nathan the question “Did your sister care to check in on you anytime during the Covid lockdowns?
He answered that question by saying “No, she did not.”
To me hearing this was sad.
Nathan was also telling about how he is alone by himself 90% of his time and has no friends. He told me about how he used to have friends, but those friendships ended 10 years ago when he first went on income assistance.
Like many welfare recipients he does go to the soup kitchens and uses the food bank. However, just like most of them, he is not friends with the people he sees at these places.
I asked him, “So, Nathan, what would you like to see your future be like?”
“Kendall, there are a couple of things I can say to answer this question,” he replied
“Kendall I saw this story here, “Kendall Worth on friendship, poverty, and feeling discouraged, and I want to see these social prescriptions getting started here in Halifax. If this program was available to me now, the mental health professionals would have something to refer me to, to help me make a new friend.”
“Second, I want the day to come that I can go back to work. I lost my last job because of what it was doing to my mental health. I do not want to get into talking about this and what happened because that is a whole other story,” he said.
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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