KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Meet Jason and Kate (not their real names), two welfare recipients who knew each other from back in the days when they lived a better off life. Then they lost contact for 20 years or so and reconnected when they started running into each other at soup kitchens and other places where poor people go.
Recently I had the opportunity to meet with them and get to know them. Among other things we ended up talking about birthdays, how they are different from back in their days of being employed.
We all agreed that birthdays should not be a day that we should be worrying about taking care of our mental health. We should all be able to treat birthdays like they are our own personal holiday and what we do on that day should be about having fun and doing something a bit special.
See also: Unhappy Birthday To Us: Kendall Worth on being poor and celebrating
Jason and Kate told me how they would either take their birthday off from work as a vacation day, or otherwise their co-workers would do something to celebrate while at work.
I asked them to talk about what life was like when they were better off. Jason and Kate both had their own things to say about this subject.
Jason told me that he has been on social assistance for five years, and that his life is much like the lives I describe in my articles.
“Well Kendall, it was a difficult adjustment changing from my income level above $2000 a month to now, my income level only being what was up until May the standard $850 and now the standard $950.00 household rate,” Kate told me.
“I have only been on the system for three years and I remain confident that the day will come that I will be doing better in life,” Kate said.
“One barrier is that often I worry whether or not today I will dress professionally but go hungry, so I can go out and look for work today, or am I going to dress in old clothes today and eat, so I can look socially acceptable for the soup kitchens and drop-ins,” she said.
“Back in my days of working I had a good job where I used to wear dresses and business suits to work everyday. It is because of the business degrees I got from university, and I am looking for similar type work again.”
“I felt that on days when I did make time for the soup kitchens in between handing out resumes and filling out job applications I got judged by others at the soup kitchens for the outfits I would wear.”
By the way, I know this is a problem for more people than just Kate. I said to her, “Kate, I am sorry to hear you had that experience.”
The whole point of this story is that our birthdays should be a day where we do not have to worry about our situations.
We should relax on our birthdays no matter who we are and whether we are rich or poor.
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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I wonder if Dress for Success might be able to help Kate out. Don’t know them personally so not sure what’s happened since COVID, though…
I believe Kate’s issue was more that she felt uncomfortable showing up at soup kitchens dressed in business attire.
A one size fits all perception of poverty is a separatist tool used to divide the poor, poorest, working poor and middle class poor. The face of poverty is different to every face wearing it. Acceptance of peoples’ unique experience may expand our understanding of poverty and help us lead to its eradication.