Category Archives: Shelter & Poverty

The Perfect Gift

We are bombarded by advertisements, displays, salespeople, and online ads of ‘the perfect gift.’

It’s all a bit much, isn’t it?

Or do you love the hustle and bustle of the season? Worrying what to get and how you’re going to find the time to even get it?

Do you love the sleepless nights filled with dreams of recipes that fail, presents that are returned, and family that doesn’t make it home for the holiday?

Do we lose something, in this commercialized version of Christmas, or do we gain what we wait for all year, to be with our families, months of planning, all over in hours of endless preparations and a few minute meal.

Is this, what Christmas was meant to be? Is this, what Christmas felt like when you were a child? Is it filled with excitement and wonder and magic and awe of the beauty that surrounds you in the lights and the giant trees, and the bigger than life presents that Santa brought for you? Is this, what Christmas still feels like to you, today?

Or can we agree, maybe, that as we’ve grown older, our families bigger, and our hearts maybe a tiny bit smaller, (I mean, how often do you really see the neighbors anyway, they don’t need a gift from you)…can we agree that maybe, as the old saying goes, “Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Perhaps, the Grinch was on to something.

I’ve always been in awe of the true meaning of Christmas. Whatever your belief may be, Christmas is filled with hope and majestic wonder. Just look into the eyes of a child, or a loved one. I dare you not to smile.

Joy. Laughter. Love. Excitement. Extravagance. Tradition. Closeness. Giving.

Just a few of the words that describe Christmas for me.

But if I’m honest, I’ve lost some of the magic, too.

It’s easy to do. I think that in our fast paced, need it now, have to get the best of the best, world, we forget that the true meaning of Christmas is love. That the true spirit of Christmas is in giving, but not just giving because we have to for the many reasons that we’ve been lead to believe, but giving because it comes from our heart. Giving that means something to us, from deep within us, because it gives us joy.

Stressing over what to get everyone and spending more money than we have does not bring us joy, let’s be real here.

Joy is in the little moments of putting up the tree with our family, baking with the kids, getting that gift off the top of our niece’s or nephew’s Christmas list because we can afford it, and we know how happy they will be playing with that toy, with us. It is in the moments of, regardless of a Christmas tree with presents under it, or food on the table, we are surrounded by people who love us, exactly as we are.

Christmas is a time of togetherness.

This looks different for everyone. This could look like family and friends or neighbors and community. It could look like many presents and a table full of food or no presents and an empty belly. Or any combination of these.

There is one ingredient that can’t be taken away, despite our outside circumstances, and that ingredient is love.

We all have it, and we can all give it. We all want it and we can certainly all use it.

It might take a little humility and vulnerability, I know. It might take biting your tongue, and loving them anyway, despite what they’ve done. It might take a phone call that you’ve not made in a long time or a visit you’ve been dreading all year.

But if we can try to remember, even if just for a moment, that the perfect gift is love. That the reason for the season is hope. For a better tomorrow, for a better me, and a better you. For a better world, one that remembers love.

If we can try to all be gracious givers this holiday season. To only give what we have, with love and joy. To be peaceful and patient, with kindness that comes from a heart filled with love.

Love doesn’t look like what we bring, it looks like showing up for someone. Our families, friends, and perfect strangers.

The things just simply don’t matter when you are surrounded by people you love, or at least like, somewhat. Try to like them a little more this year.

May the true joy of Christmas surround you this holiday season ❤️

There is something that has challenged me these past couple of years. I like to give, to family and friends, but sometimes I look around and I see that my family and friends are quite blessed. So, I look for ways to give outside of the usual presents, sometimes at the expense of gifts for friends and family, and sometimes extra, depending on my own financial circumstance.

I’ve challenged myself, and I’d like to challenge you, as well.

There are many organizations in our region. The YWCA is of course one of them. These organizations need items on an ongoing basis. I know this can look like a lot of work and maybe even complicated, I know it did for me at first. Even overwhelming. But over time I’ve learned a thing or two.

Poverty has many faces in our region. Causes are no longer just national organizations that we click a button on the webpage and donate our annual allotment of donation money, though this is of course a great way to give back. When we look around our cities, we see the faces of people that have come upon hard times. I know that you see them.

But if you’re like me, you might like to know that you’re truly making a difference, and may have no idea who to give to.

Can I challenge you to make it meaningful? To you, and maybe even your family?

We can give to an organization or organizations that mean something to us, whether past or present.

For example, though I’ve never used the services of the YWCA, it has meaning to me because there are many times that I have been in a place where I’ve thought of an emergency shelter as an option. To give back one year, I learned that they have a list of needs on their website and I donated formula and diapers. I had no idea this was an item that was needed. I didn’t think about it simply because I don’t have children.

I was challenged once to put one thing that I didn’t need in a box each day for 30 days. I can’t even tell you how much joy it gave me to bring a box of items that I loved, but really didn’t need, to a local thrift shop. Thrift shops give back in big and meaningful ways to the community, and the world. They even gave me a gift in return, a punch card with a discount for the next time I shopped there. I craft, thrift stores are gold mines for items to craft with.

When I was in high school, our grade 9 French class decided to give a family Christmas. This meant buying all the gifts and food for the family’s Christmas. There are a few organizations that do this. I will never forget this experience.

There are many people in need of winter items, hats, scarves, mittens, that you can buy at the dollar store, or donate from home, as well as gently used coats and boots. This is a great way to teach kids to give.

I have been blessed to be a part of a motel ministry that provides food, clothing, and support to those living in the many residential motels in our region. I had no idea that many of our motels are no longer for tourists. The people who live there need everything. Stop by, take a look.

Books can be donated to many organizations, if you happen to like to read, and wanted to pick up a few extra for someone else.

And of course, there are the beautiful red kettles, of an organization that works tirelessly to combat many things, but hunger certainly being an important one of them.

The more I learn about what the organizations in our region do on a daily basis, the more inspired I am to give, based on what has direct meaning to me, or what might be an immediate need in our region right now, such as shelter and a warm meal during the cold months.

If you can’t give money, give time, and vice versa. Be creative. There is something that you have that someone else needs, whether it is time, talent, or treasure.

There are people in need all around us.

Have a wonderfully blessed holiday season.

Healthy Co-Parenting with your Ex

Crystal

Let’s face it folks, times have changed. The traditional family is no longer that traditional. More and more often couples are finding themselves in a position where they no longer want to ‘couple’ but are, regardless, looking ahead at years of obligatory interaction due to their children.

For the past 6 years my ex and I have been called things like: weird, surreal, amazing, and the ‘poster children’ for divorce. As much as I enjoy praise, (come on, who doesn’t?) it also breaks my heart a little that our situation is so uncommon.

I have questioned what it is that makes our relationship one that, while never perfect, has always been equitable and pleasant. Is it because one or both of us are perfectly rational, emotionally mature individuals who should be therapists in our spare time? Uh…nope (shush Dan, I can hear you from here).

What we have found together, though, is a friendship that has grown roots in today, and plans for tomorrow, rather than lingering in yesterday. Here are the lessons we learned along the way, in the hopes that our style of healthy co-parenting becomes the norm rather than the exception.

1) THE KID COMES FIRST

This is the foundation upon which every decision we make is based. It is non-negotiable. This is, unfortunately, also where so many relationships go wrong. Anger and resentment gets in the way, people want to hit back, or score points. Stop it! This is not about you. It doesn’t matter who did what to get you there, the fact is you’re there. Take responsibility for the child you created, and their well-being. What is in their best interest? What kind of life do you want for them?

2) COMMUNICATE (PLEASANTLY)

Whether you are talking to or about your ex, be civil. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of your child. You once loved this person enough to procreate with them. Point out their positives when you can to your children, so they can recognize them as well. Every child starts being told “oh, you have your dad’s nose” or “you’re so your mother’s son”. Don’t let them have a negative association with that half of themselves.

Communicate regularly when possible. Before my ex was able to move closer, we used to meet up at a coffee place every weekend to exchange our son. We spent an hour or so chatting about our weeks and what was going in our son’s life. While you might not be there, consider what small changes you can work towards to make the situation less adversarial.

3) BE A FAMILY

Yep, you heard me. Do stuff together. No, it’s not going to ‘confuse’ your child. It’s going to help them understand that while there is a new living arrangement, being part of a family doesn’t stop. We do birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, even Halloween. Camping and road trips, while not common, have been done. This is something that I give my ex SO much credit for. Over the years he has always gone out of his way to ensure he is present. On my end, I have always ensured he knew he was welcome in anything we do.

This feeling of family extends though. His parents stay with me when they come over from England. They want to spend time with their Grandson, and I love that! My mother and he have a hilarious relationship that involves shameless flirting. We all come as a package, and if a step-parent comes into the picture, they will absolutely be wrapped in that package.

4) BE THE GROWN UP

SO many aspects of healthy co-parenting fall into this category. Often, when parents split, the relationship shifts from parent/child to grown up/buddy. They don’t need you as a friend. They need you as a guide, a rule-setter, a loving pair of arms, and a safe place to land. Don’t try to use them as a sounding board to vent your venom over the injustice of it all. It is NOT their problem, it’s yours. Call a friend, or a hotline. Open a bottle of wine after you’ve finished ‘adulting’ and have a Facebook rant. By trying to force your child into the role you want them to fill, you are denying them their childhood. Be the grown up they need you to be in this difficult time in their lives.

All of the small choices we’ve made through the years have all fallen into one of these categories. It has made our lives so much more positive, and frankly, so much more enjoyable. Kudos to all of you out there right now who are doing your best, and keeping your integrity in difficult circumstances. I wish you smoother seas ahead.

Just remember, when in doubt, go back to #1.

What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

Everyone knows someone who has been, or is being abused. It may even be yourself. The problem is that nobody likes to talk about such a horrible subject. Everyone wants to believe that it will never happen to them. But the truth is if you were to look around at the people you know, there’s at least one person who is suffering in silence.

Abuse comes in many forms and may be difficult to spot at first glance. The person who is being subjected to abuse will often lie or cover up what is happening to them because they are ashamed or embarrassed.  They often live in fear and believe that they are helpless to do anything to stop the abuse. Sometimes they have been beaten down so badly that they can’t see a way out.

I know a few women who are in unhealthy relationships, but one stands out more clearly than the others.  She is someone I love very much and it kills me to watch her being treated so horribly. To the outsider it seems like she lives a privileged life. She has been married over 30 years to a successful businessman who earns a six-figure income.  They have a beautiful large home on the outskirts of town with a swimming pool and hot tub. They both drive new cars and go on vacation to the Caribbean every winter.  It looks like she’s living the dream.  But, appearances can be deceiving!  She is married to a man who controls every aspect of her life, from the way she cooks to the correct way she’s expected to stack things in the fridge and cupboards.  He decides when and where she can drive her car.  He has driven away every single one of her friends with his rude comments and obnoxious behaviour.  He has worn her down to a shell of her former self.  He undermines her confidence and tells her she isn’t capable of doing anything without his input and permission. He barks orders at her and monitors her every movement.  He talks down to her and degrades her publicly.  He beat her dog every time it did anything he perceived as being disobedient. He has had multiple affairs and she finds evidence of the gifts he buys for other women.  He hides money from her and closed their joint bank account.  He comes and goes as he pleases and never offers an explanation for his whereabouts.   He talks to her like she’s a child and treats her like an object that he owns.

We were both married in the same year to the same kind of man. Except that I left after 10 years of abuse and heartache. I left with nothing but my children and my sanity. It wasn’t always easy but I have never regretted leaving. I’ve put myself through school multiple times, I’ve travelled and experienced so many opportunities that life has to offer.  I wasn’t able to live in a big fancy house but at the end of the day I could come home with my children and lock the door behind me knowing that there was no one there to ridicule and belittle me.  I was free to make choices and learn through my mistakes without someone degrading me.  I didn’t know what life held for me when I left but I knew anything was better than living with someone who enjoyed suffocating the life out of me.

I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to get my friend to understand that she has so much more power than she’s aware of. I’ve tried to explain to her that she holds the cards to her future and that she has more power than she realizes.  She would never be destitute because he would have to give her a very generous settlement, in spite of his underhanded ways.  And yet, she still feels trapped in her golden cage.  It should be illegal for someone to abuse their spouse but until she’s ready to make a move, all I can do is offer her unconditional love and support.

If the day ever comes that she finds the strength to detach herself from this selfish, arrogant, abusive sociopath I will be there to help her pick up the pieces of her life.

Giving Thanks, this Thanksgiving

On a good day, it is easy to express thanks, share that feeling of contentment and be grateful for all you have.

Let’s look at gratitude on a bad day…week….month,  or year.  It’s hard yes, but not impossible.

The Thanksgiving holiday, from an emergency shelter perspective, is something I wish everyone could experience.  Not to be homeless, I do not wish that on anyone.  I am talking about the incredible sense of community that happens at our King Street shelter in October.  The generous spirit of the Niagara community never fails to amaze me.

Local businesses, service clubs and individuals donate food and funds, enabling our top-notch team in the kitchen the ability to prepare the most delicious turkey dinners.  Included are all the trimmings, and a few extras that we consider luxuries in the non-profit world.  All in an effort to make the day one of a celebration of family, community and thankfulness.

People that have never met share what they have – with those in difficult circumstances.

I am honoured to see firsthand how this gesture from the community in their donations, and volunteering of their time, their caring …….fills the women and families at the shelter with gratitude.  You can see it in their faces and feel it in their hearts.  Someone cares, even when things look…well, bad.

To everyone that finds it in their hearts to give of themselves this Thanksgiving – THANK YOU, I am truly grateful  for the hope you provide for the women and families we serve.  Experiencing this every year, I am given the ability to draw on this feeling of connectedness when I am having a bad day.  It also makes me reach out, beyond myself to help raise my community up – and for the ability to that…..I am also grateful.

 

 

 

Out Of The Heat

I am rarely one to complain about the heat, because I absolutely HATE being cold. I mean come winter I am layered in at least three things at all times trying to get hot. That being said, I have found this summer to be particularly HOT and to be honest… long. Maybe that’s because I currently don’t have a/c in my car, my office gets really stuffy and our bedroom has the full brunt of the sun bearing down on it all day making it difficult to cool down at night, even with central air.

Listen to me complaining.

Do you ever wonder what those with nowhere to go do on an insanely hot day? I know a lot of us worry and strive to take care of those in need during the long winter months, but what about those days where the temperatures are sky high, heat alerts are in effect and we are all drooping even in our air conditioned offices, cars and homes?

What happens when you don’t have shelter to hide away from the baking sun and excessive heat?

When you are shooed away from a shaded spot because businesses often want people to move along?

When you are made to feel uncomfortable, unwanted and a burden for asking for a cup of water at the Tim Hortons?

When you don’t own a hat to cover your head, sunscreen to cover your skin.

When you see a blessed water park, but don’t dare go near it for fear someone will call the police on you.

What happens then? Where do you go?

This summer Niagara has seen six excessive heat alerts (though keep in mind most of those alerts last several days or longer). This alert is sent out by the region when the humidex is forecast to rise to 40 or higher, when the humidex is forecast to rise to 38 or higher with a smog alert, and when Environment Canada has issued a humidex warning.

The region recommends that during an excessive heat alert residents should:

  • Plan outdoor activities during cooler parts of the day
  • Rest frequently in shaded areas
  • Drink plenty of fluids (unless fluid is restricted by your physician)
  • Never leave infants, children or pets in a parked car
  • Dress in cool, loose clothing and shade your head with a hat or umbrella
  • Take cool showers or baths until you feel refreshed

This is all well and good for those who have access to those options.

When these alerts are sent out, the YWCA and other shelters such as Southridge and The Salvation Army are mandated to accept anyone seeking shelter. While the YWCA can only accept women and children, we would refer men to our Men’s shelter or those shelters who accept men.

But the sad part is, that they aren’t always accessed.

Often, most of us don’t realize how the effect of a hot day can sneak up on us, never mind those suffering from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health issues. Research has shown that addictions can cause our bodies to react differently, causing an increase in dependency and cravings. Add to the fact that on a normal day you are turned away from shelter for a variety of reasons, your gut reaction becomes to stay away instead of being chased away.

This is why you often see those in need around the bus station, malls, Wal-Mart and Tim Hortons. They are some of the few places where they aren’t asked to leave as long as they are keeping to themselves. That sentence was really hard to type.

We all complain about the heat. About our a/c not working properly. About being sticky, sweaty and uncomfortable. We prepare in advance for the summer… stocking up on water and ice cream. Getting the water slides and pools ready. Thinking of the best way to keep the house cool. But so many of us don’t stop to consider how the other half are faring. We walk past the outstretched arm because we are so used to seeing it. We turn our heads to the side and maybe say thanks that we aren’t in the same position.

But maybe next year, while we are stocking up on water, we buy some extra to keep cold and hand out on those super awful days. Or offer some sunscreen or a hat. Check up on someone and say hello if you are concerned. Donate items such as water bottles, sunscreen, hats, bug spray etc. to the shelters to hand out.

We all deserve to be comfortable and safe. We all deserve to be thought of.

The Downward Spiral Of Poverty

This August, our blog has been all about Poverty and Health. A group that faces the close connection between health and the downward spiral that is poverty every day is Bridges Community Health Centre. We invited Rhonda Barron, Health Promoter at Bridges, to share her experience with our readers in a guest blog.

Janet

Janet turned 56 yesterday, although she’s definitely feeling much older these days. In the past year she lost her husband of 25 years in a fatal car accident and her mother to a stroke.

smoke-1001667_1280She is consoling herself with cigarettes – a habit she picked up again after ten years smoke free – occasional drinking and confining herself to the sofa most nights curled up with a book, or lately, binge watching the third season of Orange is the New Black.

Every morning she makes her way to the local pharmacy just down the street from her red brick three-storey apartment to a part-time cashier job she’s had since 2006. It’s a reasonable walk, but Janet usually drives playing the same script over in her head as she makes her way to her car: “I’ll walk to work tomorrow.”

Trained as a Dental Hygienist, Janet worked for a busy dental practice in downtown Niagara Falls for a number of years until an accident left her unable to perform her duties. Now her only option is low-skilled minimum wage employment, part-time at that.  

In the past six months she’s been using the little savings she and her husband were able to tuck away to pay her rent and put food in her fridge.

As a construction sub-contractor, her husband had no benefits and no pension. He earned decent money when there was work, but the construction industry in Niagara ebbs and flows making the availability of work anything but consistent. Now with Jake gone, Janet’s on her own.

She’s estimated her savings will carry her 12 months at best.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral.

As if being on the brink of near financial collapse and dealing with grief were not enough, Janet’s health is on a downward spiral. Her vision is blurry, she grows tired easily and lately she’s been experiencing tingling in her hands and feet. After some coaxing from her sister, Janet made an appointment to see her nurse practitioner at the Community Health Centre she belongs to.

The Diagnosis

After a few tests and a couple of repeat visits, she is diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.

Instead of burying her head and ignoring the symptoms, she decides to consult with the diabetes education team and enroll in some of their workshops.

A few months pass and her health care providers are noticing significant improvements in her health. Her blood sugar is under control and she’s down ten pounds, an accomplishment she can directly attribute to eating healthier and regular exercise. She even quit smoking.

Six months later Janet is down another ten pounds and feeling much better about her health, but her stress levels are creeping up and the temptation to smoke is harder to ignore.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Janet is doing all the right things. She’s made significant behavioural changes, everything from healthy eating, exercise and quitting smoking. She should be proud of herself. And she is, but there’s no program, workshop or lifestyle change that will help her with what she needs most to live a healthy, prosperous life: a secure income.

With her savings now exhausted, Janet does not know how she will make next month’s rent.

Facing Poverty

Last night she broke down and had a cigarette, the seriousness and weight of her situation too much to bear.

With not enough money to buy groceries, Janet visits the food bank for the first time in her life. The volunteers she encountered were kind, but the experience no less humiliating.

Now into the throes of poverty, Janet is on an affordable housing wait list, but expects it will be at least three years before she gets a call. This may be the first time she has experienced poverty, but the consequences are no less dire.

Even though she participated in programs and made lifestyle changes that have improved her health, until she has affordable housing and enough money to eat healthy and meet her basic needs, these lifestyle changes will not put her on even ground with others who are income secure.

Now that Janet is living in poverty she is at greater risk of developing other chronic diseases. She is also at greater risk of dying from related complications.

Income Determining Health

Income is the most profound determinant of health. For every rung you move up the income ladder, the better your health. Many health care providers understand it and more politicians are starting to realise it.

The average life expectancy for a woman living in Canada is 81 years, but not everyone benefits equally.

Extreme levels of inequity play out in catastrophic ways, including life expectancy.

According to the Code Red series that ran in the Hamilton Spectator a few years ago the difference in life expectancy was 21 years between the best and worst neighbourhoods.

Not only does poverty strip years from your life, it denies you of your potential.

Poverty casts a dark ominous cloud on people’s lives.

No one chooses to live in poverty, and escaping poverty is not about making better choices.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong.

And yet, there is no shortage of comments about what people in poverty are doing wrong. That firmly held neoliberal belief that if you just got your act together, found some discipline or made better choices you could be on the road to success.

People easily forget or perhaps have never realised their success is more than the sum of their decisions. Often it’s the family we are born into, the person we married, our skin colour, the language we speak, or simply, we were not the one to get the job.

It’s not uncommon to hear people remark on how someone living in poverty can afford to smoke or drink. But when you have little to look forward to in your life, sometimes a cigarette or a drink, as unhealthy as they are, offers a temporary escape, even if it’s just in your head.

It’s harder to give up an addiction when you are living in poverty. The daily doses of toxic stress that poverty readily delivers wreaks havoc with a person’s brain. In fact, living in poverty actually depletes a person’s will power.

Poverty restricts choices. It’s repeatedly having to say no or being unable to access things other people take for granted. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise then that once a person’s willpower reserve is depleted a cigarette becomes an irresistible temptation that brings a rush of dopamine and an accompanying sense of satisfaction and relief, albeit temporary.

The Cure

The good news is that there is a social vaccine that will prevent poverty and combat income security. It’s called a basic income guarantee.

Ontario is launching a pilot next spring. It’s a step in the right direction. But we need to work together to make sure the pilot becomes a national program that benefits all people living in poverty. And we need to make sure that it is done in a way that ensures people are better off.

Some people say we cannot afford it. The truth is, we cannot afford not to.

Others think it’s a recipe for laziness. Existing evidence says otherwise.

A basic income will prevent poverty and combat income insecurity. It will put people on solid ground that leads to improved health.

Incomes security sets a stable foundation that allows people to be creative, innovative and engage in entrepreneurship. These success will increase money flows into local economies. These things in turn will reduce social spending in other high ticket areas like health care and the justice system.

Yes a basic income will come with additional costs, but the social return on investment will transform lives and communities. In the end we will save money, and more importantly, we will save lives.

Meet The Bloggers – Poverty and Health

Canada takes  a lot of pride in its publicly funded health care – as we should! To remind ourselves how good we have it in Canada when it comes to health care, all we need to do is take a look at the other side of the border. However, we are also well aware that the system is not perfect, especially for those of us, who don’t fall under a certain social status and income bracket. We asked our bloggers about their experiences with health care and the affordability of it:

Ellen

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

Labour Day weekend marks the 4th anniversary of my partner’s lymphoma diagnosis. It took me awhile to connect that the fear and sadness I feel at the steamy end of summer is a remnant of that personal trauma. My partner is alive and thriving today, but there is emotional scar tissue. A life-threatening illness gives rise to many distressful thoughts, and one of them is the very real fear of financial ruin. My work for the past eight years has been a chaotic and precarious jumble of freelance and contract gigs, with times of frenetic gain and times of anxious sand scratching. Luckily (and it is very much luck, no matter the skill, intelligence, or effort of the employed), my partner has a good job—a union protected job—that has, thankfully, a disability package. He was off sick for two years. Two years. Like everyone faced with crisis, we cut our spending and lived in stasis. I work from a home office, so this allowed me to simultaneously act as his caregiver. His benefits allowed him to recover fully before returning to work. And, I should mention this, upon diagnosis, when things seemed so dark and dire and he didn’t have the strength to walk stairs or perform most of the functions of daily life, his colleagues at work collected cash from their own pockets and gave it to us. His union matched the funds. I cannot tell you how much that helped pay for all the out of pocket incidentals of illness: the groceries, the liquid food replacements he needed to survive, gasoline, and parking…endless expensive hospital parking. He also has a good drug benefit plan, but despite this, one of his drugs cost a whopping $1,600—far beyond what his benefits covered. Luckily (there’s that word again), a caring hospital pharmacist found a charity that paid for what wasn’t covered. I know my partner is alive today because of modern science and our health care system. I also know that without socialized health care, and the good benefits of a good job, we would be homeless—likely living with family. doctor-840127_1920There is no way most people can save for two years of illness or emerge financially unscathed thereafter. So, I am very grateful that my worst fears (one of them being the death of my partner) were not realized. I am also aware that many—too many—Canadians are not so lucky. I know many people who work, exhausted and in pain, while receiving treatment (or, work as long as they can before their bodies just can’t do it anymore). I know those who return to work before they have fully recovered. And I know those who, already living marginally, have their spirits and meagre finances further crushed by the illnesses of poverty. My mother-in-law’s gravestone (if she had one) might well say: “She died of poverty”. Again, this is even with our much vaunted medicare. My sister, who lives in Australia, emerged $10,000 in debt after surgery for ovarian cancer in that country. And that is with healthy private insurance! I know what happened in the past in our country to people who had no means to pay for treatment. I am the daughter of parents who each lost a parent early to sickness and disease and I know how this materially changed their lives. We have a solid enough health system, but our methods of materially caring for the sick and dying and their dependents, fall short.

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

Dental care is definitely one of those things you don’t pay for if you don’t have the money. Early in my career, I worked for several companies that did not offer benefits packages. The pay was also shamefully low, so things like regular dental care and eyeglass replacements were out of the question (also…paying for OHIP premiums in the “old days” was very difficult on a low salary and I often took my chances not paying). One of my early goals was to get a job with benefits. It seems so trivial to some, but it meant so much to me. I cracked a tooth (molar) once and waited until I had  secured a job with dental benefits to get it looked at. My dentist sent me to a specialist who told me I would have to pay $500 upfront for the required work. I went home on the verge of tears thinking I couldn’t afford that tooth; I couldn’t afford teeth! I managed to find another dentist who would do the work to my defined benefits schedule and would allow me to pay in installments. The thing is, even with benefits, you often have to pay for services up front. If you can’t afford $130, or can’t fit it on your already maxed-out credit (as is the reality for many who live hand-to-mouth), you will do without, which just adds to your physical (and mental) health debt.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I think we have come a long way in the past 50 years. We have universal health care which we all pay for; we have quality basic health care. I’ve had surgery (and at the old, dismal, filthy St. Catharines General, with its Crimean war hospital theatre-like atmosphere) and the surgical skill (and some, if not all of the aftercare) was excellent. And I didn’t get a bill! I’ve spent a lot of time at Ontario hospitals in the last six years, and I’ve accessed (for loved ones) and witnessed excellent home health care provided through local Community Care Access Centres. I can’t say enough about the skill and caring of these service providers. We are also fortunate to have excellent community health centres in Niagara such as Quest, Bridges, etc. (a big shout out) that provide good primary care and a whole lot more, as well as advocacy on health equity issues and programs. I think that is where a lot of the change and innovation in health care originates — from direct service providers who believe in improving health by changing the system, tearing down barriers, or mitigating social inequality. They, along with poverty action groups, have the “broader view” that includes pressing for a living wage, since good health has everything to do with good, or even adequate income. Of course, within the existing systems, services such as health navigators at hospitals and clinics, can make a huge difference in terms of accessing the required and appropriate care. Knowing where to go for services (particularly no or low cost ones) and how to advocate for your health (mental and physical) or the health of someone else, can change outcomes.

Marilyn

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

I had major surgery almost 10 years ago that almost killed me. There were severe complications that have a direct link to the health problems that continue to this day. I had to learn to accept my limitations and work within them in order to stay healthy. I haven’t been able to work full-time since I had that surgery. My whole world as I knew it came crashing down and I was forced to re-evaluate my priorities.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

It chips away at your self-confidence. Chronic pain & illness can lead to isolation which can develop into clinical depression. It messes with your self-image. It’s very scary to be financially dependent on someone else. Society is very judgmental and places a value on people based on their income or ability to work.Marilyn

Have you experienced a health care issue, that was impacted by whether you had, or did not have the means to afford treatment?  Can you share?

I feel very fortunate to have additional medical insurance through my husband’s employee benefits. There are many treatments and medications that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. This would have a negative effect on the quality of life I would have.

With prevention top of mind, what preventative health tip would you like to share?

Stay active. Engage in low-impact activities like gardening, walking and aquatic exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Regular exercise improves sleep, controls weight, has a positive affect on mood and stimulates creativity.

In your opinion, what needs to change so that quality health care is available and affordable to everyone no matter what their income?

I honestly don’t know the solution to this very serious problem but I do know that it needs to be addressed by the government. If people don’t have access to proper healthcare now the government ends up paying anyway through things like hospitalization, Long Term Care facilities, disability, welfare, etc. There needs to be a more pro-active approach to caring for people to prevent the rapid decline of health and quality of life before it happens.

Allison

Have you, or someone you know been faced with an illness that impacted your/their financial security?  Can you share?

My father went on sick leave from work numerous times due to arthritis that left him unable to perform not only his work duties, but also other basic tasks around the home. In 2012 he suffered a stroke that extended his leave to over two years, and by the time he returned to work he experienced a culture shock from not only having to keep up with new developments, but from being treated differently by his peers. His sick leaves from work impacted his finances greatly since the money he received from work while on leave was not sufficient to cover the bills, and so he resorted to using a line of credit to support us. When he went on another sick leave, his inability to leave the house left him unable to get a doctor’s note his work required in order for him to remain employed. He was then fired by his employer of over 20 years. The last conversation I had with him was terrifying, as he had essentially lost all hope to get better, and would avoid answering my questions about whether or not this meant he was going to go on ODSP or OW. When he passed away two weeks after that, we learned that he was in severe overdraft and debt. Seeing what can happen to someone when they experience chronic health problems is something I will never forget, and exposed me to the many problems that exist both socially and systemically. There is simply not enough support for people experiencing chronic illness and other health problems.

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

I have heard many wonderful things about Quest Community Health Centre in St. Catharines. Their questpriority populations include people experiencing homelessness, mental health and addiction issues, and many others who are in need of a supportive, nonjudgmental environment.

Irene

Do you know of a program or agency that helps eliminate a barrier to health care for those living in poverty?  Give them a shout out.

In the last five years I have lost  my own family doctor of 25 yrs. I have been in extremely good health all of my life. I saw my doctor for physical check ups only. Through having to find a clinic to replace my family doctor, I found Quest Community Health Centre 145 Queenston St., Suite 100, St. Catharines, ON  L2R 2Z9.

This is a centre that provided health care professionals and programs that were inclusive to everyone. There have been no barriers. I was treated as an individual. Poverty was not a barrier to receive health care. The staff treat every person with compassion and empathy, no matter what their circumstances in life are or have been.

The Dental Program provides dental care for clients who cannot afford to see see a dentist because of cost. This program provides dental care and cleaning on a regular basis by professionals who donate their time. Their programs such as Road 2 Empowerment, a program to better and more efficiently advocate was immensely beneficial.

Living in Poverty means consistently advocating for our rights.

Aside from the physical-side of the impact of poverty on health – in your opinion what psychological impact do you feel there is?

LIrene2iving in Poverty creates health issues that I have never had  due to poor nutrition and the constant worry of not having food creates a fear that you may go hungry.  There is also the underlying fear that being homeless can happen to you again. Every ordinary situation becomes a crisis. This leads to stress and anxiety.

Even though I had the assurance that I had access to food despite that it had no nutritional value most of the time I was faced with the reality that if I did not have the means to get there, I would go hungry.

This fear is constant. It impacts decisions you make, relationships you have and too many times we isolate because the reality of poverty hits us so hard, we become immobile.

The mental strain on every aspect of our lives becomes exhausting. Although I am in a better situation, Poverty has taken a toll on my mental well being. There are still days, sometimes weeks that my entire system shuts down, mentally and physically. Poverty has left a scar that will remain with me.

 

The Wall Between Poverty And Health

Poverty is a stone wall.

Every stone represents a barrier.

The barrier of :

Accessibility.

Stigma.

Low income.

Shame.

Isolation.

Transportation.

A wall too high to climb and exhausting to chip away at.

Each stone makes accessibility to services difficult, if not impossible.

Poverty is a circumstance. It is not a chosen life style.

To be defined by it by a system  creating these barriers puts a strain on those that are vulnerable. It leads us to believe that we are not worthy of quality and accessible health care.  At a time when we are faced with more situational health issues due to poor nutrition, stress and circumstances, the accessibility to immediate and consistent health care is not available to us. Health  issues for myself  such as headaches, tooth aches, colds, flu and my chronic back pain had to be endured.

Suffering needlessly and being in pain seemed to be another side effect of Poverty. It felt as if I was being penalized by the very system that was to be my safety net. Over the counter medications such as Tylenol or cough syrup to ease any of  these ailments  was not affordable and not covered by any social program. Being unable to address what may be considered as minor health issues created stress and anxiety. I spent weeks in pain. I isolated myself and found it difficult to function.

Having affordable transportation for appointments  to my own family doctor was another barrier. A barrier that eventually cost me a family  doctor of twenty five years. I was forced to access either  a clinic or Community Health Care facility that was accessible by walking. Having to disclose personal information of my situation during intake at a clinic of why I had no family doctor… caused shame.

Shame makes us hesitant in sharing private information which can lead to undiagnosed and untreated  illness. Poverty is a barrier in and of itself. It removes freedoms and making choices exclusive to my life, made by me. I had to accept what was available and affordable. There were very few options.

At a time when familiarity and consistency in any part of my life was critical, I was stripped off all that gave me peace of mind. Losing my family doctor of twenty five years being the most critical. Having spent  my entire life being in excellent health, I saw the decline in my physical health. I suffer more from headaches and back pain due to stress and anxiety. Anxiety led to depression and other mental and physical  health issues. It was a downward spiral. One that cannot be reversed.

It felt like a set of dominoes being knocked down. Once that first domino …”Poverty”  fell, every security in my life fell. The Domino effect.

Imagine what a living wage could do

This month, YWCA bloggers have written about poverty and their experiences with it. I have my own experience, which I’ve written about before, but today I want you to imagine what a living wage could do for our most vulnerable workers in Niagara.

Recently, we were told that St. Catharines is the worst city in Canada for a job and an affordable home. While some people around Niagara will spend a great deal of time pointing out the flaws with the study (and there are a few), many of us know that what was reported in this article is not far from the truth.

It is difficult to find a job in St. Catharines/Niagara (and even more difficult to find one that pays more than minimum wage, never mind finding one that isn’t seasonal or otherwise precarious) and it is difficult to afford to buy a home in St. Catharines/Niagara. Continue reading

#Reality Cheque/My Number – and a little more

I invite everyone to join the campaign – #RealityCheque – how many missed  pay cheques until I am homeless, to share their number.

Here  I will share a little more than my number – lived experience.

Last year at this time, I must confess I did not participate in No Fixed Address by sleeping in my car – the first time since it’s inception.  Why, well at that time in my life, it was a little too close to the reality I actually found myself living.

After 17 years in a relationship, I found myself leaving – yes it was my choice – and yes I had a good job at the YW and very supportive family – but my reality was at that time, I did not have a place to live anymore – I had No Fixed Address.

I Had No Fixed Address

Moms are great, and mine took me in while I sorted out my next steps.Wyatt2016…her dog’s reaction could be it’s own blog post, let’s just say I eventually wore him down to actually liking me during my stay – which took six long months.

During that time, I shared this information with very few people.  Work was my only remaining “normal” and I didn’t want to change that – especially, since everything else had changed so drastically.   There were days I clung to that small piece of normal.  So I went to work every day, attended meetings, composed reports and minutes,  going about my daily duties.  After work I would return to my Mom’s small one bedroom apartment, sleeping on an air mattress in her living room each night.  Waking up to the dog…..with that you still here look in his eyes – or was it me thinking that, projecting my feelings of self-judgement onto him.  Pretty sure it was a little of both.

My apartment search, which took four months,  in all honesty was depressing.  I viewed apartments that when I left, I felt sorry for the people living in them – the places were derelict and shockingly expensive.  Worse was the process of applying – I had no rental history, I had lived in a house!  Even with a twenty year work history at the YW, I wasn’t considered a good candidate at a few places.

Trying to remain the same person on the “outside” took its toll emotionally and physically – when I was in fact a very different person on the “inside”.

Add to the apartment search the fact that I was living out of a suitcase during this time, I was really aware that my wardrobe consisted of only a few pieces – would people notice?  Saving for first and last month’s rent took a bit of time too, so there were a few work lunches and social events I passed on – telling people I was busy.  Trying to remain the same person on the “outside” took its toll emotionally and physically – when I was in fact a very different person on the “inside”.  It was hard to believe that I would ever find a new “normal” – or a place to call home.

The Judgement

I understood firsthand when the women staying at our shelter would state in exasperation – “I just want my own place”.  I could relate to their feelings of defeat, at yet another unsuccessful apartment viewing.  Like them, my self-esteem began to suffer as I saw the beginning of yet another month start and still no apartment to call my own – no matter what the circumstances, you still feel there is something wrong with you while in a situation like this.   As shallow as it may sound – I missed my favourite coffee mug, fuzzy slippers and a place to land at the end of the day – that was mine.  Most ironic moment came when I was leaving work one night and a client told me to have a good night, and to her friend I heard her say “at least she has a home to go to”.  Judged, yet again.

The judgement was my own – I learned being homeless is a LOT more than not having a place to live.

During this time, I also learned I am resourceful, my family loves and supports me, that I can leave a relationship and still remain friends, and that when I did share what I was going through with a few people at work I was offered unconditional support and absolutely no judgement.  The judgement was my own – I learned being homeless is a LOT more than not having a place to live.

Today,  I have a lovely apartment, my independence, stronger family ties, and a deeper appreciation of my fellow workers.  Most importantly, I understand intimately the thought process and feelings of being homeless and a deeper understanding of the work we do here at the YWCA in supporting women and their families addressing their homelessness.

This August I will be participating in No Fixed Address – I hope to see you there.  I may even bring my Mom’s dog along, I am pretty sure he misses me!