Melissa describes her story of living in generational poverty. “I grew up in a household where living pay check to pay check was the way of life.”
Melissa is currently on ODSP, but is also working at a local grocery store, where she makes the minimum wage of $14.60. With the alleged minimum wage increase, she is concerned it will make things “that much more difficult.” Despite being employed as a part-time staff, Melissa has been working 11 days straight – interchanging between day, evening, and night shifts. It has been disrupting her sleep and affecting her mental health. However, Melissa is afraid to speak up about it because she is afraid to lose her job during the pandemic. “I cannot afford to lose the job.”
Melissa lives on her own. The market rent for her unit is $848 plus hydro. Melissa used to be on subsidized housing. However, due to administrative issues, she lost her subsidy and rent went from $85 back up to market rent. Melissa has been struggling to keep up with the rent and almost got evicted. To make matters worse, her rent will be going up by $10 in January as a result of rent freeze expiring at the end of 2021.
“It is really, really difficult to budget. You need to have two budgets to make sure you have enough at the end of the month for bills, such as rent, hydro, food, and transportation.”
Since she was a child, Melissa has also had to deal with health issues, which affected her mental health. “Growing up not knowing what was going on in my mind…It really hurt. I got bullied for it.”
“Seeing how my parents were struggling, and now it’s going on a generational cycle where I’m living pay check to pay check trying to basically get ahead, but every time it feels like I’m getting ahead, I’m actually taking two steps back. And with ODSP – pardon my language – every time you try to get ahead, you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. “
Melissa also knows what it is like to be temporarily homeless. “What hurt the most is that I was even suicidal and I’m not going to tell into all the details, but I was suicidal to the point where I wanted to end my life.” Despite the experiences Melissa had to go through, she was able to access a community resource in Cambridge that helped her find housing. She moved around to a couple different temporary places, but eventually moved into the place that she is at now.
Years later, she is giving back to the community by helping with the meal team at Ray of Hope. She started volunteering with the meal team in 2018. She has also been making hampers for the marketplace at Ray of Hope. “I feel like giving back to the Ray of Hope because they gave me a reason to be a better contributor to society.” Volunteering “gave me a purpose to get out of bed and not feel sorry for myself.”
Melissa also writes poetry. She has 4-5 books published through Amazon. She talked about how writing helps with her mental health. “It’s a way to let out my anger or whatever is on my chest. It helps to let out the frustration that has been building up.”
“I heard the stigma for myself is that people on ODSP don’t want to get out there and work. They are all drug addicts or this and that. Sometimes we are just in these situations of no fault of our own. We lost our jobs. We had something traumatic happen to us that was no fault of our own. We are just trying to figure out the best way to cope with our demons and better ourselves. We have to deal with constant stigma that people are putting on us and it makes it harder for us to actually want get out there knowing that there are these stigmas.”
“Basically, a lot of people have the ‘It can never happen to me’ mentality and when it happens to them, they end up ‘eating crow’ for saying that. They put their foot in their mouth and realize ‘Oh, it can happen to me’.”
YOU SEE ME You see me there on the streets. Down-trodden, in need of much needed care. You don’t know how I got there, nor do you care. As you see, I fought for your freedom in wars past, When I returned from the latest mission, My wife was gone, and so were my kids, as well as all the money. The house was sold, and all I had was the clothes on my back. Down the dwindling spiral of depression I sank. I am now alone, looking for help from strangers whose freedom I fought for You see me there at the checkout. Short on change, so I have to put lunch items meant for my kids, when in school, back. They cry as they watch me do it. I hear your sighs of dismay, not knowing how it got this way. You see, my husband left me for another woman. Now I’m struggling to make ends meet. Being a mother can be tough, even tougher when alone. I can’t even afford childcare so I can find a job. I go days without eating myself so my children can be fed. You see me glaring through the window of the coffee shop. Hoping I won’t be coming in looking like I haven’t showered in days. I know you’ve noticed that worn down apartment building down the street. I just so happen to live there. The landlord is cheap with the repairs, and came in one night to my apartment and raped me. I’m a runaway teen, I was physically and sexually abused by my older brother. No one believed me because my brother said I was lying when he was confronted. I feel dirty and ashamed on the inside for the things that were done to me. I’m considering abortion of the child that resulted from the rape. All I want is a coffee with the change I found to warm me, even if it’s temporary. I see you give me dirty looks and evil glares. Thinking I’m lazy and don’t want to work. Before you judge, please take time to hear my story, you may be surprised. No one chooses or deserves a life of poverty. The circumstances that led to the unwanted situations are as unique as the individual. Never think it can’t happen to you, because life can be unpredictable. We’re all people who, at one point or another, are in need of a hand up instead of a hand out.
“It was a registered nurse who gave me the name. I had the quirks and the personalities of a cricket. I was 14 years old.”
“I found myself on the streets after I had gotten into an injury. An accident happened in 2010. I ended up having to quit my job. I’ve been coming to homeless shelters and places that help the needy ever since my accident.” The accident caused injury to Krikket’s stomach, skull, and back. But he did not receive compensation for his injuries until this year – 11 years later. “I couldn’t pay rent or anything like that after I quit my job. I started couch surfing and then being out on the streets.”
It was hard for Krikket to find a job after the accident because of his injuries. He still has mobility issues, which has exacerbated his struggles on the streets. When asked how it has been for him living on the streets, Krikket replied, “Stressful. Strenuous. It has been a lot of arguments. There’s been couch surfing. I’ve been kicked out of different locations. And then being in tent city…but then being asked to move along. And there’s not a lot of room for my belongings. I had everything packed in a backpack and that was about it.”
Krikket talked about how the police would come to tent city regularly to break up the encampment. “There was a lot of people there who were my street family. Not only did I have street family, but I had biological family on the street.”
When asked what kinds of barriers and obstacles he has faced in obtaining services and supports, Krikket replied, “I’m not sure. I signed up for all kinds of housing programs, but they said I was not that much of a risk, even though I was staying at overflows in the shelters. On the list of at-risk needy for housing, I’m still on the wait list for 3-4 years. It’s not a matter of weeks or months. It’s a matter of years. I’ve been on OW this whole time. They were saying to me – when I was put on OW – that this is not long term. It’s supposed to be short term. But it took 11 years on OW to get on ODSP. So low income assistance…it doesn’t give much for places I can rent. The cost of living was way more than I could afford. OW gives you $636 a month.”
Recently, the hospital found Krikket a room to rent. But this room has taken a long time to secure. Krikket has been on the streets for 9 and a half years.
“It’s only been this year since things have been solidified. I’m off the streets. Getting hospital care. I finally got my ODSP after 11 years of applications for brain injury and back problems. I had been admitted into hospital – the psychiatric ward – to get the ODSP. They wouldn’t let me out of the hospital until I got stable housing and financial assistance. That happened this past winter. Finally I won’t be staying at Tim Hortons during the winter time. I will have my own apartment.”
“I started certain successes this past year. I’ve been an electrical technician engineer. I was hoping to get back to working full-time with ODSP helping me out. It’s a new year for me. It’s a very different year. I won’t be getting frost bite this year or out in the rainstorms as much as I was in the past. I used to get caught sleeping in Tim Hortons quite often, and night shift would threaten to kick me out because I was sleeping. It’s been a lot of hardships. But I don’t want to share all that. I want to share the positives.”
More about Kitchener’s Tent City:
John has lived in Kitchener his entire life. His dad passed away when he was 15 years old. After his dad’s passing, he lived with his mom and siblings, and he took care of his mom until she passed away in 2014.
In around 2010, John lost his job of 32 years. After losing his job, John worked as a taxi driver for about 2 years. After the family home was sold, he moved into an apartment and used the money he received from his mother’s will. “But because of a situation with my mom, I ended up with some mental instability problems. So through KW hospital, they set me up with Threshold Homeless Supports because they kept telling me I would be out on the streets soon. So I got into their housing and I’ve been there ever since. It’s been 5 years.”
John shared that a good thing that has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic for him is he has lost 55 lbs. “Because I had health problems from being overweight, I was able to get on a weight loss program to treat me.” John has been biking, jogging, and walking over 300 km a month. His physical health has improved significantly since beginning his weight loss journey.
John also shared that he was just hired for a new job at the airport this morning. “I feel like I’m getting the opportunity to have a revival of my life, I guess. I’m changing the directions of my circumstances and things are opening up.”
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