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.