I am not only a person who has been really poor, virtually homeless for a period, but also still on the edge of poverty. Although I am working as an Auxiliary on Call there is often no work available, so I filed for Employment Insurance, grateful that I will have enough hours to qualify. I want to work, but being an older woman, with a mobility disability, seems to make that difficult. When getting EI, I’m still trying to work whenever I can, and am concerned about February, when the EI runs out, again trying to find work. When I work as an Auxiliary, I have to declare my hours to EI when earned, but wages are paid as an Auxiliary with a two week holdback.
No one can really live on social assistance. There are so many needs that are not covered for someone who is poor and trying to get out of that situation. I remember when I was living in my old trailer, with half the trailer shut off, the furnace not working, living in the kitchen and living room, with no running water or plumbing because everything had frozen, trying to heat the kitchen/living room with a little box heater. I was unemployed, looking for work, but it was really difficult.
I had a serious car accident in January 2001, when I was returning from working in Beaver Creek. I came across a patch of road that had frozen into a sheet of ice. I lost control of my car, hit the bank and flipped into a ditch. Luckily I was discovered, by a Kluane Park Rescue Group, and taken to the Haines Junction Nursing Station, where I was medevaced to Whitehorse and then medevaced to Vancouver.
I ended up in the hospital in Vancouver, with no money, no identification, really virtually nothing. My daughter in Vancouver, luckily for me, went out and bought me a few clothes and came to see me.
After five days I was sent back to Whitehorse still so injured that I could not sit up without pillows. I couldn’t work, couldn’t get EI because I was self-employed, and couldn’t afford a lawyer to help me to negotiate with the insurance company over my car and trying to get some help. I was sent out to Vancouver twice for more surgery, and still have more surgery needed, but could never afford to go back to get the rest.
My trailer, because I had no money, ended up with frozen pipes, a broken down furnace, lots of problems. I couldn’t get assistance to fix it because, although I owned it, I didn’t own the land it was on, and no-one wanted to lend me money to fix it. I was told it had to be brought up to today’s code and that it would cost more than the trailer was worth to do that. My goal was to fix the trailer to be liveable. I wasn’t worried about bringing it up to today’s code; I just wanted to be able to live in it. The trailer is constantly being broken into, sometimes when I am in it. It is frightening and frustrating. Many things have been stolen.
I went to social services who paid my rent and gave me a little money each month which was supposed to cover my expenses. I could barely buy groceries, and could not pay my bills. I tried to apply for work. It was really hard trying to be clean, to feel ready for employment with no running water, no plumbing and a freezing cold trailer. I ended up having to go to Better Bodies and taking out a membership that I couldn’t afford so I could get a shower. I had to do laundry at a laundromat which was really expensive. I couldn’t afford enough quality food so relied on sandwiches, and fast food.
I often went in my car and got takeout and went to the park by the Riverboat to eat, and get warm. I was there a lot because it was so cold in my trailer. Sometimes I would sit on Main Street in front of Murdoch’s or the General Store or the Elijah Smith building, to eat and get warm, because there were lights there and something to look at. There were no lights at the park at night. The sheriff came and tried to seize my car when I was at an NGO applying for work. I was humiliated and scared, and was very lucky to be able to end up keeping the car.
I went to the Salvation Army for food, a bag once every five weeks, and was able to get some vegetables and bread in between. I could go for lunch there, but it was difficult. I did get an offer from one fellow to be his girlfriend. He said he had been with someone older than me. I realized to some there I was fortunate, I had a home, a car.
I ended up living a week in a room at the Family Hotel, and then the Canada Games were happening and I had to move out. I didn’t have anywhere to go, and finally ended up living in an apartment at the KK temporarily. It was better than my trailer. I was then paying rent there, and pad rent and power on the trailer.
I eventually got into Athletes’ Village when it was made a seniors residence and live there today. It is a really nice complex. Things are much better there, except that I’ve had my storage unit in the basement broken into several times. I’m so tired of this. Some good things have happened, and I have been able to get a motorized scooter to get around, and a rollator to be able to get exercise, and so I’m more mobile.
There is a myth out there that people are poor by choice, because they are lazy or have addictions. I am poor because I can’t find enough work to keep employed. Having a mobility disability makes it difficult for me to get work. When I do work, there are things like held back wages, low wages, lack of benefits. There is also the lack of permanent work, so I never know whether next week there will be work or not. Many buildings are not accessible to someone with a mobility difficulty, so that further restricts work.
The truth is that many people are poor because of something that happened. In my case it was a catastrophic car accident. I was not drinking, using drugs or speeding. Just that fast, everything changed. All of a sudden I was incapacitated and could not work. It didn’t take long to be flat broke, to use up any money saved.
In two more years, I will be able to get a pension, and will be able to at least have a regular income.
I’m from an older generation that was taught from early in life that no matter what is happening in your life, you put on your best face, and go out in the world and try to present your best “face”. I’ve always tried to do that. I think what has happened to me to what is happening for a lot of people.