Tag Archives: poverty

The Luxury of Recycling

recyle, reuse, recycling, garbage, littering, environment, environmental disasters, slums

Find your own way to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle but don’t use laziness as an excuse not to. Creative Commons: timtak flickr

Long ago I took on the recycling mindset. I didn’t want to litter, and if I’m getting rid of something that’s still usable I can’t just throw it out; I have to find a place or person where it can have more purpose. Vancouver has now had curbside recycling for a number of years. Even before that I would save up items (mostly paper) and take them to the recycling depot. But then I was a book rep and would have boxes of catalogues and order forms that would get outdated.

But when I finally came to realized how much garbarge we produced, I wanted to cut down even more on what goes into the landfill so we’re not living on a giant garbage heap. In amongst all these thoughts and growing awareness, I traveled to India. India’s population wasn’t yet a billion people but it was overcrowded and impoverished. I remember coming into Calcutta and passing fields where garbage speckled the fields. The streets of Calcutta were not just filthy. They included a dead cat, feces and other items not wanted. But much was recycled. People tore up any piece of tin or cardboard or concrete sidewalk to create shanty shacks in the mediums between the roads. It was sad and startling.

The air was so thick with diesel and pollution that a handkerchief held over my nose and mouth was black in two hours. The air garbage, recycling, pollution, Asia, culture, trash, landfillremained hazy and thick. When I walked to see the Taj Mahal at dawn the sky displayed an orangey rosey glow that was mostly pollution. Not only did the Ganges have a dead cow floating along, people doing laundry, ablutions and religious observances, it also had the ashes sifting down from the burning ghats where they cremated bodies. I made sure not to touch one drop of that river water and I already had dysentery.

When I arrived in Meghalaya, one of India’s seven tribal states, and more affluent than the general Hindu culture, I found pollution that was heartbreaking. The Khasis had a sacred grove of trees outside of Shillong. One day we drove up there, and it gave a great view of the city. But everywhere I looked there were plastic bags, bottles, straws and tetra packs. Another day we went to see some sites and then sat on a hillside by a waterfall.  We ate our lunch, which was wrapped in banana leaves and then in plastic bags (there were no neat takeout containers). After we finished the other people tossed the banana leaves and then the plastic bags. I ran around gathering up the plastic and exclaiming, You can’t do that. It’s bad.

These people are educated. They go to school and university and drive jeeps but they had no idea about environmentalism. I triedto explain that not only is it visually unappealing but unlike the banana leaf, the bag will go into the ground, poison the earth, or a cow will eat it and then when you eat part of that cow (the Khasis are not Hindus, who don’t eat cows) you could get sick from the plastic. I simplified it but I tried to impress that they shouldn’t leave garbage in the natural environment. But they also had no form of recycling.

trash, garbage, pollution, India, slums, recycling, recyle, reuse, reduce, environment

In many ways India does more of the Reuse part of the three Rs than we do. But Reduce is something that all countries need to do so that there isn’t so much garbage in the beginning. From: Indianimages.com

For much of India, it would have been fairly difficult to go up to someone and say, Don’t cut down that tree or you will have no trees at all, when that tree might be the only means for them to cook food. Seeing such destitution, filth and pollution in areas made me realize that we in North America have the luxury to recycle. It’s not that easy in a third world country where survival is your first most thought. You want shelter, security and food, and little else matters after that. In fact your full day might be taken up with finding enough food for your family. Such images fill me with despair but I try to hold out hope, from my teenage years example, that things will change for the better.

This doesn’t mean it can’t be done. It can, and when the teenage Khasis boys looked at North America and coveted the standard of living and all the trappings of popular culture that we have, then it became even more of our onus to make sure people don’t repeat the mistakes. India has rampant pollution but then Canada and the US’s shores and land are not pristine. We work at it but there is always room for improvement. You cannot deprive another society or deny them to have what you have, but you can try to show them it can be done better.  Pollution and recycling isn’t just something for some people. Every person and ever nation has to do it and India’s government could at least start the ball rolling, and maybe they have. I haven’t been there in years. One thing I know is I’ll continue to try to lead by example and I have room for improvement too.

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Filed under Culture, environment, health, life, travel

Diary of a Taxation Dieter

Without much ado, I present to you the kernel from whence came the Apocalypse Diet. From 2002.

dieting, poverty, poor eating, food, culture, budget foods, food

Poverty means crimping corners on food. Creative Commons: psd Flickr

Forced into circumstances beyond her control, mild-mannered copy editor, Colleen Anderson seeks a new way to survive and pay the dreaded ubiquitous tax man. Yep, that’s me, though not so mild-mannered. The working poor, freelancer who’s just gone through the depression diet, good for a few pounds. But now, having lost money for the first time in my freelance business of copy editing, having paid tax on the proportion where I worked proofing exciting car ads, having earned $10,000 less than the year before, statistically putting me in the range of poverty level income, I find that I owe $1000 in taxes.

I’d borrow from my brother but I just did that to buy a car as mine was failing badly. I’d get a loan but I don’t make enough per month to pay on the loan. I’d cut back on all those frivolities but I already have. All I can do is cut back on the necessities. I still have to pay rent, hydro, phone, car insurance, RRSP loan, creditline payment and gas. I still have to buy toilet paper and feed the cat. My brother’s going to have to wait for repayment. It looks like I will cut back on food.

After all, I wanted to lose thirty pounds anyway and my place is stocked with the usual. I should be able to get by for three months without buying food and stash $20/week  (more than I was spending on food anyway) to give to the tax demons. That leaves me $30/week for incidentals and hopefully I’ll make enough to cover the bills.

DAY 1

Brought one of my frozen soups to work with two frozen buns. Didn’t eat it for lunch since I work twelve hours. I’ll save it for later when everyone’s ordering the weekly sushi at work. No more weekly wonton soup for me. Okay I’ve succumbed to buying a chocolate bar. Damn sweet tooth, it may break me yet. It’s nearly as bad as being a cigarette smoker, especially when you crave the good stuff. And I shouldn’t be eating cheap chocolate bars anyway. Too much dairy and I’m allergic to it.

Eat my thin veggie soup with the two buns for dinner, steal some sunflower seeds from the guys at work. When I get home, I go into the ohmigawd I’m limited on food thing and eat the last of my home-baked chocolate chip cookies as I fret over my taxes. That’s 6 small ones and a handful of slightly stale taco chips with the last of the chili pepper dip from my party a couple of weeks ago. I boil up some Asian style noodles for tomorrow and hit the sack.

As I lay there in bed I realize I better plan what I eat together, otherwise it’s going to get really weird when I’m eating sardines and jam. So, remember, use the crackers with the things you don’t like to eat by themselves. The frozen soups will last and be okay without any carbos. Maybe I’ll do protein one day, carbos another days, sweet jams another. I’m sure my doctor would kill me if she found out but I have to pay the damn taxes.

DAY 2

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Chocolate: still my bane after all these years. Creative Commons: Wikipedia

Mixed the noodles with the last of the yogurt dill dip from my party, some sundried tomatoes steeped in oil, and pine nuts. That’s almost gourmet but how long will it last? It actually tastes good too. I can’t walk down to the store for a bag of corn chips anymore when I forget my lunch.

On the way home I succumb again to the evil sweet tooth. Maybe the tax man should team up with chocolate. They’d be unconquerable, taxing teeth, thighs and bank accounts equally. I stop at a chocolate factory and buy a bag of seconds using the debit card. When I get home, I eat half that bag and take a nap, only to wake to a horrible stomach ache. Too much dairy and I’m suffering for my sins. Well, that should get better as there’s nothing dairy left in the house. It’s going to get interesting though, when I’m down to nothing but a cupboard full of booze and a bunch of jam.

I set aside $20 for taxes and used the other $30 in one swell foop. That’s $25 for cat food since he was down to crumbs and $5 for toilet paper. I now have $2 and change in my purse till next week. And what money’s in the bank has to pay the bills and I probably will be short on rent.

I wonder if it’s like this in countries under siege. First everyone eats the delectables, afraid they’ll spoil or someone else will get them, eating too much like two buns with soup instead of a quarter of a bun with a quarter cup of soup. Wished I had more flour stored up. Low on all the carbos like rice and pasta. Ate the last of the potatoes earlier this week. Thank god I don’t have to worry about a coffee habit on top of the damn chocolate. Withdrawal will start soon.

DAY 3

Four crackers before I left for work at noon. No visions of sugar plums yet and frankly, what is a sugar plum? Probably some sugary prune before chocolate was cheap. Nowadays it would be visions of candy, chocolate, chips and pop dancing across the rotting teeth of kids. I think I probably have a couple of really old prunes somewhere and I’m sure I’ll get to them at some point.

I was offered an apple chip (coated in caramel sugar) at work and I wanted to grab the whole bag. But do you think it might set up a bad working environment to tell your co-worker you thought he was giving you the rest of the bag? Probably. Good thing I haven’t been eating much for a while so the mild growling barely fazed me.

After all that talk/thought about sardines and jam I thought I better eat some while I still have the cracker. Sardines in mustard, sort of a pasty hardly mustard, goo. Slapped them on some crackers, barely noticed the little spines that I usually must remove, and chowed down. Usually sardines are okay for twice a year and I really don’t know why I keep buying them because they’re kind of sinister for fish.  I mean, what other fish would lay itself down in a can with others of its ilk, side by side? At least salmon and tuna have the decency to be from one whole fish. I’m going to have to space out eating the other two cans. Bleah. And now a handful of getting-ever-stale taco chips, no dip, no guac. That’s my dinner.

Stopped by Dan & Nessa’s where they had leftover taco fixins’. I ate one and feel quite full now. Food saviors, gotta love ‘em.

DAY 4

Reprieve. Going to the US for the weekend. Since I have some US money set aside I’ll be able to buy some food. I don’t eat until we get over the border and into Bellingham at 2. I buy six dolmades (grape leaves stuffed with rice), and a bag of jalapeno potato chips, which I eat on the way. For later I buy a bottle of wine, cider, one lime, a bag of mixed nuts and four muffins to share, which are really cupcakes in drag, weighing a pound each. That comes to $30 US or $45 CDN. US food prices are very expensive.

The bag of chips is so big there’s no way I can eat them all but they and the dolmades do the trick. We drive and drive and drive, through traffic torture and heat and finally get in around 8:30. We set up the tent and I eat a banana and drink one cider. By the time we’re all done setting up it’s time for bed.

DAY 5

Mary brings me a bun with turkey in it sometime in the afternoon. Just turkey and dijonaise, no veggies. I ate a part of Pasha’s magic bar, chocolate and coconut and something else. Later on we have supper, honey garlic chicken and brown rice, with caesar salad. I know I nibbled on a few more of the chips throughout the day so I don’t feel hungry at all.

Evening is drink time, cider and wine and partying.

DAY 6

I wake up hungry but we have to attend meetings and then break down the tent. I eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies and half of the one-pound “muffin.” Back in camp we start breaking down the tent and nibbling grapes. I eat a few more of the ubiquitous jalapeno chips and drink a glass of wine from what wasn’t finished the night before. I pack the mixed nuts that I completely forgot about.

On the way home we stop at David & Jeff’s and they order Chinese food.  Lots of food, I pig out and then feel uncomfortable. We drive on and around 11 we stop for some gas and I’m looking for pomegranate juice because I’ve discovered it goes very well with vanilla vodka. They don’t have any but I find margarine with almost no whey in it. Being allergic to dairy can even eliminate most margarines and I’ve been looking for months for the brand I had bought. I don’t use butter or margarine much at all but it’s good to have some on hand. And I buy a few chocolates for the road because I’m falling asleep. Not the best and there’s dairy in them but there are exceptions, even for bad chocolate.

soup, junk food, dieting, taxes, poverty,

Soup is a good way to fill up when poor. Creative Commons: foodgeeks.com

DAY 7

Monday, day off for Victoria day and it’s cold and blah and rainy. I wake up quite late and eat the rest of the chips and the chocolates throughout the day. That’s my meal until late at night when I finally do the finalized version of my taxes. Then I have a bowl of comfort soup, Lipton’s chicken noodle, the low salt one, which doesn’t have MSG like almost any other packaged soup, canned or dry. Why, I have no idea, but MSG gives me rashes on my face and I already overdid it with the chips.

I used the slow cooker today and made soup from a frozen chicken carcass, denuded of most meat until all that’s there would maybe make a sparrow. I put that in the pot with the last of the veggies in my place. That’s some slightly yellowing broccoli, about a half bunch of celery, some garlic, half a lemon and spices. Spices I have lots of. It cooks all night.

DAY 8

This morning I boiled up some alphabet noodles I forgot I had and added them to the soup. I took a big container and two buns with some margarine on them, to work. However, I didn’t eat them during the day because I knew I had a long night. I succumbed to a chocolate bar and took another to work tonight. That’s $1 I’ve spent on food.

When I did get around to eating my soup it was quite tasty. I put enough pepper and Ethiopian pepper in to make it spicy. Stole some sunflower seeds again from the guys and eventually ate the chocolate, Caramilk, which wasn’t very good.  Bleah.

Got home thinking to have more soup but then thought to have another bun. They’re starting to get that freezer burn taste. However, I settled for eating too many of the mixed nuts. Now I feel a bit bloated and it’s off to bed.

DAY 9

I had a handful of nuts today at work. I knew a friend was coming over to cook dinner so I skipped taking some more of the soup. When I got home I was really hungry though so I ate a handful of crackers and then got a stomach ache.

Once my friend D comes over we make stir fry with basmati rice, turkey, carrots, peas, peppers & lots of wine. I eat well and D bought all the food or we would have had very slim pickins.

DAY 10

Thurs. leftover stir fry, two ciders at penis poetry (I might have been doing a reading of my “penis suite” poems about the penis or I might have been at some other show…I don’t remember).

food, cravings, eating, dieting, poverty,

Dieting can make you crave food even more. Creative Commons: Sashamd Flickr

 

DAY 11

Friday, writers meeting, last of leftover stir fry, then over to Mikey’s for Vlad’s thang, some wine, Korean pancakes, peanuts, a couple of chips.

DAY 12

Kathy in town, meet her for rally, get a teacher’s free bag lunch, eat half the sandwich with no cheese, veggies with peppers & mayo, bottle of orange juice, cookie. Pub for two drinks then to K’s hotel. We hang out with pita, olives, artichoke hearts, red pepper spread, crackers, grapes, wine, then to lounge for more wine and cider, caeser, dancing all paid on her budget.

DAY 13 Over to Gibson’s with Kathy and to Robert’s and Wilson’s Creeks to see friends. Just a couple of cookies at Ross & Nancy’s, holding babies, a glass of blackberry wine. Two pieces of pizza with cheese pulled off (mostly), back on ferry, stop to buy can o mushrooms and some M&Ms because I found a spare $5 in my jacket pocket.

DAY 14 Tuna & frozen pasta sauce with wheel pasta. Banana chips.

Friday DAY 15 (You can see I started to lose enthusiasm for writing about this diet.)

chili

Saturday DAY 16

Ate some banana chips then went to help John move, or more unpack. His mom was there unpacking and hard at it. Helped in the kitchen and the bathroom, then we all went for dinner. Said I wasn’t going to go cuz I was broke but John said he’d buy. We had Mongolian grill food and it was tasty. All you can eat. I wanted to have more than one bowl but I was just too full.

Sunday DAY 17

Slept far too late even for a slackass day. Ate some banana chips and then Dan ICQed me to come over for BBQ. Met with Sam for coffee. Bought a grapefruit juice which has used some hard-earned coin.

Went to the BBQ and brought my contribution which was absinthe (left by friends after a party). I’m getting used to the taste. Ate chips, salad and a hamburger, which my stomach rebelled against later. But then it might have been the four bucks I spent, two on a bag of chocolate chips that I can eat through the week and two on chocolate covered peanuts that I chowed down too fast and I think they contributed to the stomach ache though I gotta say beef and me don’t see hoof to eye. I also felt waaay too full after eating the nuts. Not a good thing before going to bed.

Monday DAY 18

Slept in this morning and had to rush. I left when I should have been at work but made it in 20 minutes. So I gathered my last pennies and bought a bag of corn chips and some chocolate buds. That was lunch, balanced and healthy.

Had to work on some stuff tonight with a friend so I didn’t eat till 11pm and then I had the ubiquitous soup I made two weeks ago. It doesn’t seem to have turned yet though my stomach ached a bit after two bowls full. I had a handful of pine nuts too.

Tuesday DAY 19

Today as always I splurge and buy a bag of chips and a chocolate bar that I really shouldn’t be eating. That’s a buck from the $49 I have this week, $20 which will be set aside for taxes. I forgot to bring lunch with me and ten hours to get through. Guess I’ll be stealing sunflower seeds again tonight.

Around this time I must have got more work and went off the taxation diet.

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The Apocalypse Diet

In recent weeks, there has been some focus on poverty and CBC Radio One has a special on today about it: We are the 10%. I have been there more than once and grew up in a lower middle class home, which meant I had clothes, a roof over my head and food, but there are many who don’t even have those essentials. Last week I posted a piece titled How I Almost Became a Prostitute where I talked about the terrible state of our welfare system. It degrades and humiliates; and the general public has this perception that only drug addicts, lazy and stupid people become welfare bums, when really, the system perpetuates the problem. In my article I talked about spending no money on my food and living off of what I had in the house.

It got me thinking. If the world ended tomorrow, the zombie virus took hold, the axis shifted, the bombs dropped or some other worldly apocalypse happened to cut supply lines, how long could I really survive on what I have in my home?

So, I’ve decided to start an experiment on January 1. I won’t say it’s a diet to lose weight but January is the month to tighten the belt, trim the fact, pay off the bills and think frugal. So what better way than trying to see how long can I survive on the food in my kitchen before I I have to resort to drinking alcohol and eating condiments?

If I really had no way of buying food, how long would I go before having to eat my fellow human, my cute and pudgy cat or hunt wild rutabagas? Because this is an experiment, I won’t stock up before the planned date. I’ll just go with whatever is in my place. My cat will not have to follow this regime (in case she decides to eat me). And should I go out, well, I won’t quite keep myself to this regimen in a restaurant, slavering all over my friends as they eat.  However, for lunch at work, I can only bring food from home. I’ll take supplements if I need to and record it, since I really don’t want to get scurvy.

Now, I’m predicting I’ll be fine for at least the first month. Then the veggies will run out and I’ll resort to the frozen foods. I have a fridge but no separate body-sized freezer packed with a full deer. I imagine I’ll start to get bored in the second month and by the third month I’ll be creative, and maybe crazy. But maybe I won’t last that long, because really, the apocalypse hasn’t happened and I can step outside without fear of zombies munching my toes.

I will post my results here as a diary, but I’ll probably do it on a weekly basis so as not to fill up the blog with short but inane food comments. 😉 Be prepared, the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Perhaps I’m just foreshadowing the doom around the corner when the world ends. Stay tuned…if you can.

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How I Almost Became a Prostitute

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Creative Commons: Diego3336 Flickr

The Occupy Movement has got me thinking about we, the little people, those who drudge out our days to pay the bills, with very little extra and sometimes having to choose if it will be getting a tooth fixed or getting tires on the car. How voiceless are we in how things run? Well, we vote in our representatives, if we vote, but many of us know that you can’t represent all of the people all of the time. In fact, most political systems break down after one-two hundred people. We have no true democracy and while we all have a vote we are definitely not heard nor represented equally.

One example of being the voiceless 99% was when I ran up against bureaucracy while trying to be trained in a presumably more lucrative position. I had a three-month full-time course in an apprenticeship program to be a script supervisor in the movie industry (that’s overall continuity and more). Apprenticeship programs were paid for by the government so I had no course costs. However, I couldn’t really work during that time. All of the other people in the course (around 16) had either a spouse to support them or they could get unemployment. I couldn’t because I’d been freelancing for years, where the federal government doesn’t let you pay into unemployment insurance. My freelance income just paid my monthly bills; hence why I was taking this course.

I had very little saved money but as a freelance copyeditor there were two publishers in New York for which I would edit one to two manuscripts a month for them. With one from each of them I would have just enough money to get by while I finished the course.

Three months doesn’t seem a long time but halfway through the first month, the first publisher changed their focus and went into videos. The second publisher went into receivership at the end of that month. Suddenly I had two months to go and no money. I scraped through the second month but December was coming and I had no way to pay rent, let alone buy much food. I instituted the end-of-the-world diet. I didn’t buy any food at all and used up the stores in my place. In a way it was interesting to see how long could I survive on fresh produce, then frozen foods, then canned and dried goods.

But I still couldn’t pay the rent. So I went to Welfare. Now I had once before in my early 20s been on welfare when the economy dived, I couldn’t find work and times were dire (and I had roommates). It was no fun whatsoever, and slim pickings. So here I went, down to the office, filling in forms galore to see if I could get $300 to pay my rent (my rent was more but that was what I needed to pay the rent). It turns out, because I had about $3,000 in retirement savings plans I was not allowed even $300 that I said I would repay. Instead, the brilliant of our government is to have you use up al of your retirement savings now so that when you hit old age, you can go live under a bridge, become ill and run up more costs for the government.

Not only is there no such thing as a free  lunch but there’s no help for the self-employed. I’d have to be a full-on welfare recipient, unable to work and possibly dealing with addictions to get the money. So what could I do? I had no money to pay my bills, my car payment, my rent or for food. I was trying to finish the course and not drop it. I was desperate and seriously thought of prostitution as the only way I could make ends meet. I had no job, no recourse. I determined where I could stand; I wasn’t far from the area where they stand, I could dress badly and where little. I could charge…something. Maybe I could be a call girl, have them pick me up, place an ad in the paper. I imagined scenarios in cars and back alleys. And…I just couldn’t do it.

Lucky for me I had good friends and family. Without ask, people sent me money and my landlords gave me a half month’s rent as a Christmas gift. I bought no one a present that year, but somehow I made it through. And no help to a bureaucratic government that sees everyone on welfare as a welfare bum and if they’re not, then they will be by the time they’re completely destitute and degraded.  It was humiliating.

I can see why the 99% (through really it’s probably 20%) are complaining about the 1%. Government and corporations, more than individuals, are the 1%. And we hear over and over again of the plights of the common people, denied this or that, dying in the streets, succumbing to illness, being humiliated because they just don’t have a voice made of money. Do I trust my government? No. And it’s too bad but I need to see more faith in helping humanity first. In the meantime I remain wary.

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Sixty-Year-Old Woman has Babies

Everyone is talking about the 60-year-old woman who had in vitro fertilization to have babies. There were three embryos but one was removed because of health reasons, whether to the woman or the embryo wasn’t clear but I believe it was the embryo that wouldn’t survive. She gave birth prematurely to twins in Alberta.

But now every news show seems to have jumped on the ethics bandwagon. Is it right, is it ethical? Should parents so old have babies? Etc. ad nauseum. Let’s break this down into the two questions? Should old people (you define the age) have babies and should physically fit people have babies?

Looking at that last question first, should people who are physically debilitated have children? Years ago Ablerta performed mandatory sterilization on people from 1928 to 1972. The Sexual Sterilization Act was to keep undesirable traits from showing in offspring. Of course there would be no offspring with sterilization. Some of the people who were reviewed for sterilization were alcoholics, paupers, epileptics, prostitutes, mentally retarded, psychotics, had Huntington’s disease, or in some cases were just abused children themselves: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Sterilization_Act_of_Alberta

Very draconian and far reaching. There are recent cases of quadriplegicshaving children. Crippled people who may spend their lives in wheelchairs or walking on one leg have successfully raised children, even as have people with low IQs, which did not pass on to their children. Although alcoholics should probably be held responsible for children born with fetal alcohol syndrome, they’re usually not barred from having children and they may be less fit than a 40, 50 or 60-year-old in good shape.

So, should “old” people have children? Maybe they’re less likely to run off with someone else, making the other spouse a single parent. People who come from those large families of twelve kids or so may find that if they’re the youngest their parent is indeed old by the time they’re born. Sometimes one parent is much older than the other. Under various reasons of health, emotional or financial instability people have given up their children for adoption or to be raised by grandparents. Sometimes the parents die. As someone pointed out, Obama was raised by his grandparents. He seems a normal human. Old people don’t grow horns and become another species. They’re capable of raising young humans and there’s no guarantee that one 60-year-old is as fit or unfit as another.

What I find interesting is that people of older years have had children before but this time someone, maybe the Alberta health authorities, decided to alert the media and the media leapt for the bone. Even mainstream media seems to be going more tabloid these days with the sensationalist nosiness. When will we start taking responsibility for our own lives and what we do and stop sticking our noses into everyone else’s business?

These parents may turn out to be rotten or the best parents ever. Pretty much it’s the luck of the draw that all of us get at birth, and at least they’re not living in poverty, nor in 1928 when the Alberta government would have seen fit to sterilize them.

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Drugs, Thugs and Hugs

Vancouver is starting a community court as an attempt to stop filling up the court system with repeat criminals who happen to be drug addicts and stuck in the perpetual cycle of addiction>money>crime>drugs>addiction.

There are several stats that contribute to trying something new. I’ve always contended that our criminal justice system is broken. The Downtown Eastside is considered the poorest postal code in Canada, as well as having the worst and largest number of addicts. Vancouver suffers from a high number of crimes ranging from car to house break-ins. Many of these can be contributed to addicts looking for that fix and needing money. So in their jittery, drug addled state, they trash cars, or steal purses and backpacks or invade homes.

I’m not speaking speculatively but as someone who has been a victim of these crimes. I’m not particularly rich, don’t drive an expensive car and don’t live in a ritzy neighborhood. That doesn’t matter in Vancouver. When I had a Honda Civic (the most stolen car in BC at the time) it was broken into sixteen times. Licence plate, registration, sunglasses, ashtray w/coins, first aid kit, half a tire jack, gear shift knob, cassette tapes, etc. were taken. Some can be contributed to kids and car thieves (gear shift knob, licence) but the ease of getting into a Honda was well known.

Although the break-ins happened all over the city, the majority happened where I live in East Vancouver. My next door neighbor, who at one point had a nice heritage house, became an addict. We had no proof that he was the perpetrator but the crime rate on our street was very high while he could still pay the mortgage on his place. My apartment (part of a heritage house) was broken into when I was away but my landlords were watching it and at home that night. We’re pretty sure it was the drug addict neighbor who even seemed to be paying a couple of teenagers to scout out places.

Twice more my place has been invaded. The second time I was actually home and someone walked into my back door (facing into the back yard) and took my purse. I suspect it was my no longer homeowner neighbor who had lost his house to drugs. The last time was last year when some other addict crowbarred my French patio doors and stole my camera.

This happens time and time again in Vancouver and although some criminals are of a higher organization, most of these crimes are caused by drug addictions, homelessness and sometime mental health concerns. Locking up these petty criminals for a short time doesn’t solve the problem overall. Most get very minimal sentences and are back time and again in the courts.

The community court (that some are labelling Hugs for Thugs) is to deal quickly with the criminals, where they meet with a triage team of counsellors and/or social workers. They’re sentenced to varying degrees, where community work or reparation is included, and sometimes jail time. This court has just begun and has been successful in other geographic areas. It’s the first in Canada and hopefully, along with the safe-injection site, will help keep the crime down and maybe, just maybe get people off drugs and off the street.

We’ll need affordable housing, which there is a lack of for even people who are poor and not yet homeless, as well as those on drugs or suffering from mental health issues. But I wonder how it will work if the addicts don’t want to change. And I know, after talking to someone who was a police officer for 25 years, that those on crystal meth will be the hardest to reform. Crystal meth literally eats the brain, making those addicts the most violent and least likely to be able to get off the drug. They usually have a five-year lifespan from when they get addicted.

But considering the rampant crime and the ineffective court system for this problem, I’m willing to hope this could be a win-win situation, with everyone suffering less from crime and people getting off the street and off drugs.

The official community court, justice reform site: http://www.criminaljusticereform.gov.bc.ca/en/justice_reform_projects/community_court/index.html

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A Welfare State of Mind

The BC government thinks they shouldn’t raise the rate for welfare recipients because it might equal the rate of the working poor. Notice that they’re not going to do anything with raising the minimum wage so there are fewer working poor or get rid of their contentious two-tier wage, where younger people can be paid a lower minimum wage.

In any system, whether just paying income tax, being on welfare, unemployment or being employed, there are people who cheat. In all cases, it’s a small number of people. For welfare, most of the people are on it, not because they’re lazy or bilking the system, but because they have to be.

I speak from both sides of the fence. In my twenties I was out of work and putting in fifty applications a month. I had finished high school, graduated from art college and still could not find a job. I lived in a house with two other people. At one point we were all unemployed. Rent was still cheaper than trying to move. With welfare for each of us, we still had to get food from the food bank because welfare barely covered the cost of rent. Any extra bills, and I had fewer then, were beyond the means.

Welfare is designed to belittle, humiliate and keep people impoverished. It used to be, decades ago, that a woman on welfare also had to answer for her social life, everything from who visited to what their boyfriends did, if they were even allowed to have a male visitor. More women than men are on welfare. If a marriage falls apart and the guy is  a deadbeat dad, then the woman is left with trying to get a job, plus raise children and provide childcare, and often childcare amounts to as much as she earns. So she ends up on welfare. Or as a prostitute.

Welfare punishes you if you get a job that doesn’t pay enough or isn’t full time. You’re given a base amount (if you’re single–$610/mo.) but should you make some money, you have to deduct it against the welfare amount. I’m not sure what this is. Navigating through the labyrinth of the BC government’s income assistance site does not net you this information, so I’m presuming it’s the same. If you’re on unemployment I believe you’re allowed to make $50/wk before the amount is deducted against your unemployment amounts. So let’s presume it’s something like this.

What then happens is a person isn’t encouraged to get a part time job, if they still must be on welfare. You end up working for the same amount you would get for not working. When I was in such a situation the only way I survived was by being hired by one company for two days a week. Yes, it was under the table so that I could actually survive on welfare. Eventually, they hired me full time and with great relief I said good bye to the humiliation of welfare.

Many years later I ended up in a situation where I had been freelancing for years, but had lost my clients at the same time. I couldn’t get unemployment because I was freelance. I was $300 short of rent one month as I was looking for more work. I didn’t know what to do so I appealed to welfare. At that point I had about $4,000 in RRSPs, my retirement income, in hopes that I won’t have to live under a bridge in my elder years. All I needed was $300 for one month. I would have even repaid it, but no, I was told I would have to exhaust my RRSPs first. I’m sure if I had owned a house they would have wanted me to sell it. They might have wanted me to sell the car I had but it wasn’t worth much and would have left me more stranded for work.

I found it particularly transparent of a government’s true attitude, where they were willing to bankrupt people completely and leave them destitute in the name of keeping them off welfare. I would have then been a full welfare recipient in my retirement with no resources to fall back on. Somehow, something came through last minute, saving me. But in my desperation I was seriously contemplating prostitution. That’s where the government welfare policies put many people.

And if you get only $610/mo and don’t have several roommates, and perhaps a couple of bill payments, well, then you might end up sleeping on the streets so you can eat and pay those bills. There are people, the working poor, who likewise live on the streets because they can’t afford housing. Eventually that hard living will cause more health problems and then the government will pay out more in health services to heal those people. But it’s much better to keep a person less than poor so that they can never get out of the perpetual welfare state.

I pray that with the cost of housing, heating and the rising price of food, that I don’t eventually retire into abject poverty. I wish I could say this was too far from the truth to consider, but it’s a reality that could just be around the corner. It’s too bad that supposedly progressive governments have such short vision and lack the perspective to take their thinking out of a welfare state.

http://www.policyalternatives.ca/News/2008/04/PressRelease1868/index.cfm?pa=BB736455

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080423.wxbcwelfare23/BNStory/National/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20080423.wxbcwelfare23

http://www.eia.gov.bc.ca/factsheets/2007/increase_table.htm

http://thetyee.ca/News/2008/04/22/Poverty/

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