Brushes With Poverty

Creative Commons: psd via Flickr

Because CBC recently continued its program about poverty in Canada, or those of low income, I thought I would also continue to talk about how poverty has affected me in the past. I’m also extremely busy at the time with several freelance projects so this will be in point form.

There are single parents, single people and even couples with children who struggle to survive and keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. I’ve never been dirt poor but I have often lived one paycheck away from being on the street. That’s scary enough, and with the rising costs of everything from rent to gas, the future is a place of scary possibilities of which I hope I won’t have to visit.

  • As a child I never had a bike. I’m not sure if it was for some other reason or that around the time I would have got one my parents divorced. All of my other siblings had one. So I can barely ride one to this day.
  • With the divorce, my vindictive father cut my mother off from all medical, which meant the kids as well. I should have had braces and now have a few resultant and expensive problems because of it.
  • When  there were field trips or trips for skiing in school, I and only a few others could never go nor afford to learn how to ski. It helped make us outcasts.
  • While my friends had cars (albeit used ones) that their parents had bought them, I eventually bought a very used one from my friend’s parents for art college.
  • I put myself through college as there were no savings that my single parent mom could give.
  • I paid off a rather small student loan over an exceedingly long time because I ended up on unemployment and welfare in the first recession.
  • Welfare was a demeaning situation and I only survived because I shared a house with three other people.
  • Food banks are not nutritionally balanced. You are lucky to get any vegetables, which would be limp at the best of times. At one point all of us in the house were on welfare because there were no jobs (50 applications a month).
  • The most income tax I ever paid was when I was on welfare. The second most I ever paid was when I was on unemployment, which coincidentally is taxed, as if you’re getting a huge income.
  • I stopped buying food so I could pay my income tax while on welfare.
  • I worked under the table, as a means to make enough to survive upon because welfare wanted to deduct everything from what they gave, which does not encourage people to even work a few hours or more and get established.
  • As I wrote about before, I was expected to turn in my $3,000 RRSPs before getting $300 from welfare, so that in the end I could tax the system more when I was elderly.
  • I seriously had to consider prostitution to make ends meet, which no one should have to do. Of course, stealing things could be an option as well.
  • I have lived in pain for months on end because I could not afford the extended healthcare to get the problem looked at.
  • I have lived with broken teeth and cavities because I could not afford dentistry.
  • I have watched friends go on vacations while I had a staycation.
  • I have literally, sold my secondhand goods on a street corner so that I could go to India, borrowing money from a friend for a flight and paying her back over a year. That’s ingenuity and not everyone can travel but it meant scrimping because of low wages.

I mention this last because while I have been poor I have always managed, sometimes just. I have not yet had to live on the streets, or forego eating for long, or go cold. Many people in India live in dire destitution, as do some people here. But I mention these things because I have experienced aspects of poverty and doing without. I’m doing okay now but the realities of such a future are so close it takes my breath away with fear at times. And don’t think I’m not trying to find ways to cushion the future. I work more than one job. I make my own lunch, I save frugally so I can have some nice things, and as my brother once said, I could get money from a stone. I’ve learned ways to conserve and use everything. If I cook a chicken I always make chicken stock. If I buy lipstick, I use a brush to get to the last of the tube. I don’t change my clothes with every season’s fashion picks. There are ways to survive but still, there are those who do not have those ways.

Everyone should probably experience poverty (and third world countries) so they come to appreciate and understand the freedoms they do have. But being impoverished wears the soul down and there are too many people worrying themselves into stress-related illnesses because they’re not sure how they’re going to make ends meet. Every civilization falls and if we’re not careful, ours could just be around the corner.

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