It is a beautiful Sunday morning in July. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. I’m drinking a cup of tea and I’m using duct tape to mend the garbage bags I used to move my clothes to this minuscule little apartment I moved into a couple of months ago. Mend garbage bags? WTF! I am not the reuse queen of the world. What I am is poor and these GD bags are expensive.
How did I come to this place? I was born of a middle class family. We were never poor, at least if we ever were, my sisters and I weren’t aware of it. We weren’t rich either but we never wanted for much. We generally got what we wanted for birthdays and Christmases. We were always dressed well, even if our Mom was not one to allow for label worship. I bless her for that. As we grew, so did the family income. Our Father was very good at what he did.
I grew up to be a chef. Never was a brilliant Susur Lee sort of chef. I was a good administrator and a damn good cook but never one to make tall food and be spread across TV and Magazines. I found my niche in Product Development. I was very good at that. Am very good at that. However, pride goeth before a fall, or so they say. In the years when I was making a very good salary I was also succumbing to a series of debilitating illnesses. I gradually lost my ability to be sharp and snappy to neurological pain and chronic arthritis. A year ago after losing my third contract in a row to what can only be called poor execution due to drug induced brain fuzz and physical disability. I gave in to the suggestions, oft made, that I surrender to my infirmity and go on the fabled ODSP.
Now if you, like the former me, know nothing factual about our social welfare system, you might think this was a good thing. Aren’t I lucky these systems exist to catch me? I could be a U.S. citizen living in a cardboard box. You might be one of those who would go so far as to suggest I was now living off the public teat. Lounging around on the HUGE cheque I get every month for doing absolutely nothing! Well that giant cheque has yet to appear. Allow me to disabuse you of these notions.
While you are sitting reading this over brunch, I am drinking my tea without the cream I prefer in it because I don’t have enough money to go buy some. I am taping holes in plastic garbage bags with duct tape because I cannot afford to waste anything at all. My next giant cheque doesn’t come for 2 weeks and I am down to pasta, a few cans of soup, 2 cans of salmon, and lots of spices.
Oh and some frozen chicken a kind chef friend gave me. I’ll survive the lack of food in the cupboard. It won’t hurt me to lose a few pounds but how the hell am I gonna pay the Bell and Hydro bills?
When you apply for ODSP they tell you it will take 6 to 8 months to process the claim.They mean it! They very kindly put you on Ontario Works right away. That means that you are now the proud receiver of the lordly sum of 606.00 a month. Divided as Basic needs 230.00, Shelter 376.00.Period, full stop. And you are told you will pretty much go to jail for life if you so much a think about getting funds from anywhere else and not reporting them. Of course should you earn any other funds and report them you will be penalized by having the 606.00 reduced accordingly. Good Luck surviving. If any aspect of your life, whatsoever, should change and you do not report it, you will be summarily kicked off the program without so much as a by your leave.
Meanwhile our country is being raped and pillaged by a government that cares not one wit about our survival from one day to the other. Our duly elected officials in any one of the 3 levels of government only hear our voices when they need us to get elected. They will quite happily promise us the moon for that particular purpose. Once they are elected, we become, WHO? In the Provincial legislature no one makes less than 100 grand. Ministers make 165, the premier makes 200. Upon retirement, defeat, resignation or death a member will receive severance. If the member has served just 8 years he/she will receive 18 months of salary which for a minister would be somewhere in the 250 K area. On the face of this it might not seem like a lot of money. If you are only getting 606.00 a month, period. It might as well be a billion dollars.
What I find utterly reprehensible is what federal members get. The federal government has become nothing short of a singular joke. They do not govern us any more. They sit on high and dream up ways to strip us of our birthright. Spend our money on follies that have not one benefit to us. Lie and lie and lie and lie to us. In return, after a mere 6 years of service they can retire with pensions of 100K, at a minimum, per year for life. Ditto Senators. If Ralph Goodale retires in 2015 and lives to 90 we will pay him in excess of 5 MILLION dollars of OUR money. For what?? WTF!! Our federal government is sucking us dry with pension plans and benefits far exceeding what is remotely realistic for the average Canadian.
Meanwhile back in my life. I continue to tape my garbage bags and wonder if I can con my Dad into buying me dinner tonight. After 7 months a panel of people I was never ever allowed to see or speak to decided to, one assumes after reading the documents they paid my doctor 150.00 to fill out, refuse me ODSP. I am then informed by my case worker, who I hasten to say, is a lovely hard-working woman in a really crappy job. They turn down 70% on the FIRST go round. I suspect if you aren’t missing a limb you are never getting past that step. Then you ask your doc for a reaffirming letter and you ask for an internal review that goes to a second group of people you don’t get to see or speak to. After all this time they have 10 working days to give you an answer. Should they turn you down again, you petition to go in front of some tribunal. There you are finally in front of real live people. A THIRD group of people.
Speaking of government waste………
I am, I’m told, lucky. They awarded me ODSP benefits last week after the internal review. I know you want to know. I am now going to receive 1068.00 a month. OH MY GOD! What will I buy first? How did this happen? I get this lordly sum til I am 65 which is 3 and 1/2 years. Then I get kicked to Old Age which is less kids, not more. After a life full of promise I am destined to an old age of disability and poverty. My rent, in a not necessarily high end by anyone’s description, 1 bedroom apartment, is 840.00/month plus hydro. This is considered a low rent in Toronto. For those of you keeping score. Once I pay rent and hydro I have about 200.00 left, for groceries, phone, TV, Transit (did I mention I had to get rid of my car?), tooth paste, garbage bags, etc.
I have everything I need really. I have furniture and blankets and a wee dog I love ridiculously much. I have a Dad I adore and though she left us a month ago, I had a Mom who was totally amazing. My sisters were both completely awe inspiring. One was an artist and though she left us to soon she left us with so much. The other is a bright star in the sky. She is my youngest sister and I am amazed by her every single day. My life is rich in everything but money. Is it so wrong to want the disenfranchised to feel just as good as the rest? My life is winding down in a don’t get excited I’m not going anywhere just yet, sort of way. But what if you were the lovely family who lives next door to me. There is a Mom a Dad and FOUR kids living in a space that is exactly one tiny bedroom larger than my tiny space.
Here’s what stands out about my new neighbourhood. The cops and/or the fire department are gonna be here at least once every Friday or Saturday night. Dad’s are often the primary caregivers of their kids cause it’s Mom who has the decent job. The parking lot has very few actual cars in it cause no one can afford one. The kids all play out side. You remember outside? No nanny escorts. When they want back in they holler at the building til someone’s Mom lets them in. People say hello and smile when they see you. Every time. If someone needs something, someone else has, and helps. I’m happy to announce the Canadian human spirit is alive and well in the projects. Oh there’s some bad shit going down too. It’s not all spice and roses but so what. The bad dudes aren’t hiding inside their expensive condos down here in the real world. Makes it way easier to watch out for them.
This is still Toronto the good but Toronto the good is kinda fucked up and I really would like to figure out how we fix it. Some time soon would be good!