Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Finally My Final Thoughts!

Better late then never they say!

I have had one week to reflect on the Poverty Challenge and spend time considering how it had an impact on my life then and going forward. Many people have asked me if it was hard, it really truly was, most of all it was hard on my heart. Ignorance is bliss and having what little bit of ignorance I had left wiped away last week was more difficult then I imaged it would be. Some people asked me if I would write about how I would "get myself out of poverty" or about "how everyone on social assistance should go get a job". What I have taken away from this is that poverty is a full-time job. It is a relentless battle of trying to survive, always working on others schedules and times, always in survival mode. The sense of powerlessness that comes along with always having to have your hand out for something to eat, somewhere to sleep, somewhere to do your laundry or even a pair of socks without a hole is unimaginable. The impact that living below the poverty line has on a persons self-esteem and self-worth are heartbreaking to consider. Never mind adding job hunting, trying to find the time and energy to finish high school or the hours it takes to plan out grocery shopping down to the penny. I truly do not think I would "be able to get myself out of poverty".

During one of my meals I had the honour of sitting with a mother and daughter for lunch. I noticed that this mother did not have a dinner plate in front of her, instead she focused on her daughter who was eating. Once her child said she was full and ran off to play with the other kids, the mother finished what was left on her daughters plate. There was plenty of food that day, and I knew from our conversation that this mom had most likely not eaten yet that day. This small thing, the act of eating what was left of her daughters meal instead of taking a second plate is something I don't see often in my social circles. We live in a world of excess, we show little thought or remorse for wasting food or not finishing our meals, but not everyone in our community lives this way. This is something that has stuck with me. 

Going forward from here I will be more conscious of my choices, but more then that I will be giving back to my community. I have seen the impact volunteers and emergency supports have on our community and those who access these services and it is incredible.

I am fortunate enough that I had the opportunity to 'pay it forward' to those that supported me during the challenge:
- I added a coffee to the community coffee board at Ho Joe's
- I donated two large bins to Jubilee Church, one of men's and women's clothing, the other of kitchenware 
- I brought a night time snack to the Ne-Chee emergency shelter
- I brought socks and underwear to the Fellowship Centre
- My YPN team has signed up to participate in the Hot Meal Challenge this coming year 

My co-challenger Megan did an amazing job of summarizing some of the ways you can pay it forward in Kenora - check it out here! -->

Thank you for taking this journey with me and for reading along. Your words of encouragement, questions and support have been so meaningful. Please consider the messages you took from reading along with each of our journeys and paying it forward in some way. It doesn't have to be monetary - a smile or taking a moment to have a conversation with someone you don't know can go along way!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Confessions from Day 5

I had a moment today when I thought to myself 'I wish this was over'. Now, I will tell you that I very quickly then checked myself but it did give me something to reflect on. I have an end point, I know that tomorrow afternoon I will be able to return to my bank card and visa, I will be able to start accessing my pantry of groceries, my stupidly expensive skin products and my 3 different methods to watch tv.
Day after day people in our community wake up wishing that their poverty was over. These people are waking up on mats at the shelter getting ready to go back out into the cold for 13 hours until they can lay on that mat again. They are waking up on couches, in vans that they call home or in cold apartments. They wake knowing they have no clean clothes and/or nothing to eat, maybe even wondering what they will be able to put together for a lunch for their child today. Knowing that my days of eating oatmeal and soup, taking quick showers and long walks are limited, has pushed me to keep this up. I truly cannot imagine entering this lifestyle with no end date in sight.

Today my challenge card read: You see a stranger drop a toonie on the ground without noticing. What do you do?
Last week if I would have read this, without question I would have replied that of course I would call out and give them their dropped toonie. Today, with $1.06 left in my pocket, I had to really think about this. I know that the right answer is to give them their money but geeze it would be hard to do. I know my morals and values, and I know that I would never feel comfortable using money that was not mine even with so little in my pocket. Thankfully there are places like the Fellowship, Jubilee, the Health Unit, Morningstar, Women's Place and NeChee (and several more that are slipping my mind at the moment) that are there to help, so that even with $1.06 in your pocket you can still find clean socks and underwear, food, coffee and support.

Confession #2 (or maybe 3) - I was given this 'cookie-gram' today and I enjoyed every last bite.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Just Another Manic Monday

Looking back on Monday I can say my greatest success was the 99 cent socks I found at the Bargain Shop - with that being said there is no way these thin socks would be keeping my feet warm or free some blisters on any of my walks. So maybe it wasn't such a success at all?
Should the Salvation Army have been done their renovations I could have gotten a pair for 50 cents, and as they informed me over the phone, if it was an emergency they would have helped me get a pair this afternoon.

For those just joining my adventure today my challenge card read: Purchase a new pair of socks.

I worked late tonight and so I missed the dinner program. I settled for rice crackers with peanut butter and another pack of oatmeal. There is no room for variety or great flavour when you are living on such a fixed budget.

I have $1.06 left in my pocket and without seeing my challenge mates, or connecting with any sense of community over coffee or a meal today my personal bank account is feeling empty.

Tomorrow is a new day which will bring its own challenges (and our last challenge card!) I will be working out of town in a surrounding community for the day so I will need to pack lunch and snacks to last me.

This gave me my Monday smile:

Day 4 Clean Underwear, Empty Pockets

I truly never thought I would say this but dirty underwear have broke the bank.

Since beginning this challenge I have spent a lot of time writing, talking and thinking about our homeless population and the impact poverty has had on them, most likely because these are the folks I have been interacting with the most. What I haven't spoke to much is the population of our community that lives below the poverty line but has a "permanent" roof over their head.

I started this challenge with $56.00, I already had a heated roof over my head, a bed with clean sheets, enough clothes, running water, toothpaste and a toothbrush, toilet paper, dishes and dish soap... among 500 other things that I have used in the past few days without considering their cost.

I have spent 33.75 on groceries, some items I have regretted purchasing, like almond milk as I now realize it was not an essential item (though 4 days ago I thought it was). I spent .50 on a cup of coffee on Friday, 11.65 on my cellphone as I quickly realized I would need a source of communication to problem solve things like broken teeth and to plan things like where to find my next warm meal. Lastly, and the true kicker was the 12.00 I spent last night washing my socks and underwear.

Options for laundry services in Kenora are extremely limited and so unless you access programming like, the Emergency Shelter or Challenge Club, you will be left with not much other choice then to access public laundry services. Looking in my sock drawer last night I was filled with dread when I came to understand that this would be the case for me.
With 14.11 left in my pocket I had no choice but to wash a small load (a large load costs 14.00), this cost me 7.00, 1.50 for detergent, 3.00 for the dryer and .50 for the dryer sheet. Totaling 12.00 - leaving me with 2.11 left behind.

When I originally considered living on the full Ontario Works basic needs monthly amount of $330 I thought it would be tight to eat a healthy variety of food. I can honestly say I didn't really think about things like doing laundry (for a minimum of 12.00 a load!?), buying toilet paper or needing new socks or shoes. There really is only so far you can make money stretch.

With $2.11 left in my pocket and a challenge card of needing to buy socks today I am going to see what I can do.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Day 3 and It's Got To Be KD!

Sunday got off to a great start from the beginning; today's challenge card read: Someone was kind and gave you 5 boxes of Kraft Dinner. Purchase them without using your budget $. 
So I called up my fellow challenge mates and invited them over for a KD dinner party.

With the sun shining I headed down to Jubilee for the lunch program. With church service just ending the space was filled with parsons and families. It's hard to describe the energy or feeling that filled the room today, with children running around laughing, families sharing hugs and friends sharing smiles and greetings I found myself smiling as walked in. This was the third meal program I have attended and so I have begun to feel a sense of community as I am beginning to know the names of some of the patrons. Our group arrived together however, at one point I looked around and we were each sitting talking with someone we had never met before. It is clear that Pastor Frank and his congregation have so much pride in the welcoming warm environment they have created. There is no other words to describe this experience then a true sense of community. 

Leaving lunch Megan and I headed to the grocery store to make my big KD purchase. On our way there we walked by several groups of people who we have had meals with in the past few days, what once would have been a silent smile or a quick hello was now filled with big greetings, conversation, jokes and laughter. 

There have already been so many experiences in this challenge that I will hold with me as I move forward in my life. Building relationships with the people I had once been fearful or apprehensive to walk past, that today I shared laughter smiles and jokes with, will forever be a changed moment for me. 

With the trek from Keewatin being a bit too far for dinner plans as Casey speaks to in her blog, and Kirsi needing the night at home with family, it left Megan and I to share my KD dinner. This was a great end to the day as it was filled again with laugher and kindness. 

This challenge has been hard on my emotions and my spirit, though not for a moment do I forget how hard it is on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual parts of the people I have had the honour of talking and eating with. 

Tomorrow in Monday which means back to work, and back to trying to navigate poverty and employment. 

Not our greatest photo, and definitely not focused but we had the giggles - who knew KD could make two girls so happy!

Finding Shelter from the Wind Last Night

This challenge has caused me to pause and consider how far off poverty, and homelessness are my current life. What I have realized is that no one is that far away from living below the poverty line. While speaking with a service provider on Friday I asked, what causes people to walk through the doors of the Kenora District Services Board? She shared that there are hundreds of reasons people find themselves seeking support and assistance. Some common reasons she shared were barriers to employment like lack of education, unreliable employment like contract or odd job work, unavailable or unaffordable daycare, or medical reasons that prevent people from working. I questioned her example of medical reasons as I know the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) should be their access point. She shared that accessing ODSP can take anywhere from 6 - 12 months to kick in, leaving people with no other choices but to access any funds available through Ontario Works (OW).

If my circumstances were to change tomorrow and I needed assistance, Ontario Works would provide me with $330 for basic needs and $376 max for shelter. I did some research and the cheapest apartment I can find for rent is $775.00, plus hydro with no laundry in the building. Without the support of family or friends, or a couch to crash on, I would be left with no choice but to spend my night at our local Emergency Shelter. This isn't stretch from our reality as NeChee staff have shared that their are working members of our community who spent their nights at the shelter because of the unaffordable housing available in Kenora.

Last night I visited the shelter with the intention of spending the night. When I shared with others that I was planning on doing this I was met with concern; I was told that it was not safe, I would be putting myself in danger and I was likely to bring home bed bugs.

I arrived a few minutes after 9pm, although the doors opened at 8. What I was expecting to find: a brightly light room, a coffee pot, tables, maybe a TV, people sitting around talking or playing cards and a few people sleeping on mats in the corner. What I did find: a very clean, calm space, light with a few candles and lamps, smiling staff who greeted me kindly, large bathrooms with fresh towels, clean sleeping clothes with blankets and plastic covered mats and pillows.  Laundry machines working all night to give patrons something clean and dry to wear in the morning, separate areas for women and men to sleep, water and some sandwiches and muffins that had been donated earlier in the evening.

I shared with the staff that I was surprised to find everyone already asleep at 9:15, they replied "Sam, these people have been out walking around all day, they have been moving from place to place trying to find something to eat and somewhere warm to go where they won't be told to leave, when they get here they are exhausted". I knew what he was talking about, I knew how exhausted I felt from having faced only a small faction of the struggle they had faced all day long.

Earlier this week someone told me that homelessness and poverty are two different things, by staying the night at the shelter I was taking this challenge 'too far'. After spending just a few minutes on paper considering how close the poverty line is, and the simple math of realizing I would no longer be able to afford my home, never mind any home I truly do not see these two things as different.

During the few hours I spent at the shelter several patrons came in to find a space to sleep for the night. The women's side of the room began to fill up and I no longer felt it was appropriate for me to take the spot of someone who needed shelter from the wind and cold for the night. I am grateful to the NeChee staff who took the time to show me how the Emergency Shelter operates and for sharing their stories with me.

When this door unlocks at 8pm each night it opens safety, warmth and a place of belonging to so many people in our community:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's My Party and I'll Cry if I Want to

Today my challenge card read: Have a celebration. At first when I opened this I was excited, then I became instantly filled with dread. I cannot afford to host a celebration.
After spending the day thinking, and talking about how I would choose to have my celebration I had an eye opening conversation with my partners Mom. Lynda reminded me that we often forget to celebrate the simplest things, like my able body that allowed me to walk around today, the hands that allowed me to cook and hug and the ears that allowed me to listen to others stories. She also reminded me that the nap and shower I took to nurture my body were celebrations of self-care all on there own. Today's challenge was less about planning a party and much more about learning to celebrate the little things - lesson learned!

I would like to share with you some of the stories I heard today.

This morning at breakfast I sat with a patron who shared with me that he was homeless. He explained that he did have an apartment a few months ago, however after a fight with his landlord, he was kicked out and left to live on the street. He now spends his days walking around and his nights on a mat at a community shelter. When I asked where he would be having the rest of his meals today he explained "Sam! Homeless people usually only eat one good meal a day, and man aren't these pancakes great!?"

Later this morning over coffee I sat with a man who told me about having had his home, belongings and essentially life taken away 3 years ago when he found himself in some trouble with Canada Revenue Agency. Today he lives in his van full-time and attempts to make money anyway he can as he is unable to access any sort of government funding because of his outstanding debt. He shared openly that he does not drink, use drugs or smoke cigarettes, he uses any money he is able to make to pay for his cellphone (so he can continue to get calls for odd jobs), trying to get his clothes clean, and trying to buy something to eat.

Lastly this evening as I stood in the tea section of the grocery store looking defeated Im sure, a man approached me, stood beside me looking at the teas and asked if I knew the best kind of green tea. I shared with him that I really wasn't sure, I went on to say that I was struggling to justify buying myself a box of tea because I was very low on money. He replied that he knew the feeling. I introduced myself and explained what I was doing, he nodded and told me he had lived on the street up until a few months ago. When I asked how he had managed to make such a life changed he stated proudly that he cut down on his drinking and got a job, though some days it was very hard to keep.

When the man in the grocery store and I said goodbye he shook my hand, smiled and told me that I had made his day. Reflecting on this with my challenge mates, Casey said it best - I think that all everyone wants is just a conversation.