Monday, February 22, 2010

Bargains Scarce in High Poverty Areas

It's a well-known phenomenon, driven by market savvy (and corporate greed), that areas of high poverty have the least access to low prices for necessary goods, including food. More often than not the places where the deals are require more than mere foot travel. In some cases, not even public transportation goes to these places. And when it does, there's still the problem of being able to carry back enough of sale-priced goods to justify paying the bus fare.

In essence, the people of lowest income, those with the least choices, are a trapped market. (Whatever would corporations do without us? Maintaining an underclass appears essential to the single bottom line: profit.)

It's also the case that unless you've a car, you can't properly capitalize on bulk deals.

All of which further limits choice for people who are already desperate.

Previously I'd written about how our food bank culture limits choice. One example I gave was the discontinued practice of local grocers to sell day-old bread; hence, their reducing the choices for bread from three to two for people of low income: either go to the food bank, or go without.

In response to that post, I received an offer from a friend of Daphne's.

Teri wrote that she regularly gets day-old bread at a Cobble Hill bakery that produces fantastic organic, multi-grain breads. The day-olds usually sell for $0.50 each, but sometimes even for less.

I can't get to Cobble Hill, of course, but Teri can and that's what she was writing about. She said that when she goes to buy bread for herself, she'd be happy to pick up some loaves for me too. She'd put them in the freezer, then next time she's in Duncan, drop them off.

Now that's a choice I prefer than the two I'd been left with.

Teri contacted me a few days later to say she'd picked up TWENTY loaves of bread, some for herself, some for others and as many as eight for me, subject to room in my freezer. The price: $0.25 per loaf.

Just got my first delivery: six loaves of wholesome bread for a total cost of $1.50. I tried to give Teri $1.50 more, to help pay for the gas expense in getting to my place, but she wouldn't accept it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Necessities: Housecleaning

One advantage to having a near-empty place is not having so much to keep clean.

I've actually got more stuff in this closet of a computer room than I do in the big room. There's the telephone table in the corner to the right of me, with (disconnected) fax machine; in front is my little computer cart, with Mac mini, monitor, speakers and printer; and behind me is a two-drawer file cabinet. Then there's this chair (one of Kiltie's scratching posts) and two plastic-fabric cat houses - acquired free from my local ReUseIt place. All this in a space less than 30 square feet.

It works though and I never feel closed in. From here I can look out through the three foot high window that runs across most of the main room. Today, the sun is shining and I can see the tree opposite starting to bud.

In the main room is a daybed, one round wooden table, a bookcase and an old wooden rocking chair. My friend Ronnie gave me the wooden table, and the bookcase and rocker were picked up for free. The last was left behind by a former tenant of this building.

The bachelor units in this building have counter-table tops that run between the kitchen and the main room. Above are hutch-style shelves which back onto cupboards on the other (kitchen) side. The counter-table top is the largest surface to keep dust-free.

It's not a big deal, therefore, to keep my furniture, such as it is, and counter surfaces clean. Most require only a damp cloth. The wooden table, bookcase, computer cart and telephone table need better treatment. Fortunately, I received a coupon for a free can of Pledge not that long ago. That will last me quite a long time.

For the bathroom, I tend to clean up as I use it. After each shower, I wipe down the shower curtain, walls, tub, etc. Then each time I clean up the cats' commode, I do a more thorough job with a proper cleanser. The sink, mirror and countertop I wipe down everyday, after my daily wash; again, I do a more thorough job when it's time to clean the tub.

My major housecleaning concern and biggest challenge is the floors. I sweep the bare floors everyday with a regular broom. The broom isn't very good and tends to repel fluff and dust rather than attract it.

There are two places where there's wall-to-wall carpeting: in this computer closet and the entryway. I've a Bissell carpet sweeper I use for the carpets. It actually works for bare floors too, but sweeping with a broom is better, even the broom I have.

Cleaning the floors isn't so easy, not with the condition of my back. I can get down on my hands and knees to clean, but moving once I'm down there and getting back up again is difficult, not to mention very painful. Crawling to clean the bathroom and kitchen floors I've done and can still do - although even that I do as little as I can get away with, because regardless of their small size there's still the problem of getting back up again.

Cleaning the floor of the big room is the greatest challenge and, frankly, something I've been unable to do for some time. Instead, all I can manage is spot clean, as and when I see that something has spilled or a certain furry critter has up-chucked a hair ball.

Back in the fall 2009, I got a free Swiffer WetJet, thanks to a reader. It came with two pads. I cheerfully used them to clean the floor of the main room. I imagine I looked as happy as that woman in the ads. It was so nice to have a clean, shining floor and the fresh scent that went with it.

I wish I could get more wetjet pads, but my budget won't allow it. In the meantime, I've been wracking my brain for alternatives.

Nothing so far. So am back to spot cleaning.

Necessities: Animal Companions

Recall the number of times you've seen people living on the streets who have animals with them.

Look at the photo section of websites like that for the tent city Dignity Village.

What do you notice, with more frequency than you might expect?

What I notice are the animal companions. For quite awhile, Dignity Village had only photos of people with pets; only later did they start adding pictures of dwellings, gardens, and so on.

For some of us, having an animal companion is as necessary to our survival as food and water. Yet few mental health professionals acknowledge the link, which is more prevalent for women, or argue on behalf of those who would be denied an animal companion for the sake of property rights, as though such purported rights should outweigh the right to survival.

The vast majority of landlords in British Columbia, including government-run BC Housing and private subsidized housing projects, would deny us that necessity. Rare is it to find in this province a dwelling that will accommodate someone who has an animal companion; as rare, is it to find government or private subsidized housing developments that allow pets.

Therefore, people who are already challenged to manage with so little money, and who also may have health challenges, are challenged further to find places to live. Such people are expected to choose between having housing they can afford, are actually DENIED housing they can afford, and staying with their animal companions who they need as much as they need air to breathe.

The rationale for denying tenants animal companions is always this: "Some people don't look after their pets properly." In landlord-speak that means: "I've a right to protect my property from damage; since pet owners are more likely to leave the place in a mess than people who don't have pets, I don't rent to them."

Hogwash. Owners are as likely to get their places trashed by non pet owners as they are by people who have pets.

You needn't take my word for it.

A couple of years ago, I heard of a property owner who rents ONLY to pet owners. Said she'd found them to be more reliable, considerate and clean, compared to tenants to whom she'd rented who hadn't pets. She'd been renting various properties to people for decades - unfortunately, all out of my budget's reach.

As for my place, a 400-square foot bachelor apartment, you'd never know there were two cats here. There's no smell, no damage to floor or carpet, no sign of them anywhere. I brush my cats daily, which helps reduce cat hair from getting everywhere. I dust and sweep the place regularly and keep the litter box spotless.

I keep the litter box in the tub, near the faucet end and pull the shower curtain almost completely across. This requires the cats to walk to the end of the tub to enter or exit. The commode sits on an upside down rubber mat with the grippers facing upward. As the cats exit their commode, the mat's grippers pick up litter bits from between their furry toes. The litter box I keep clean by removing any solid waste immediately. For litter, I use pine wood pellets, which have a nice natural scent and happen to be the least expensive and most natural litter to use. (The SPCA uses it too.) When wet, the pellets expand into sawdust.

My one guilt is sometimes I forget to remove Kiltie's scent marking, the black streaking one finds at shin level at the corners of walls. When I do remember, the streaks are gone in a single swipe. Don't know why, but only Kiltie marks her territory, never Brodie.

Both cats are well-behaved and never spray. For scratching, they've a cat condo and (sigh) this upholstered computer chair.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Necessities: Housing

I moved into this 400-square foot bachelor apartment on October 19, 2002. It suits me just fine and is quite a nice, bright bachelor apartment, as such units go. It's also in a neighbourhood and community I've become used to. So I'd choose to stay here, except for three considerations.

First, it's on the third floor of a three-floor walk-up.

Pulling my shopping cart up 36 stairs, having already pulled it up a steep hill on the way home from getting groceries, is increasingly harder to do given my hip and back problems.

I would choose and have requested to move one floor down. Moving to the second floor would be almost as good as moving to the first floor. The latter doesn't have bachelor apartments anyway and I can't afford more than I'm paying now (which is already 80% of my income). The first floor is sub-basement, so you still have to navigate stairs. To reach the front door of the building, you walk up nine stairs. The first or second floor is another nine stairs, down or up. The advantage of the first floor is the back entrance; it has only five shallow stairs going down to the sub-basement entry.

All this is moot. My landlord won't allow me to move to another unit while keeping my rent the same. I'm currently paying $486 per month; new renters are paying $575 per month for bachelor units. That's what he insists I pay if I should move. It doesn't matter that I've been an ideal tenant, never late with my payments and so quiet people have said they didn't know my unit was occupied. In fact, the clear message from my landlord is that he'd rather take his chances on a troublesome, higher-paying tenant than keep tenants known to be reliable and trouble-free.

That brings up the second concern. How secure is this place for me, in terms of continued occupancy? Might my landlord try to jack up the rent anyway? What might he do otherwise to 'persuade' me to move out?

A third consideration is the absence of a place to keep an electric bicycle or scooter, two-wheeled or four-wheeled. There's nothing outside or on the ground floor, secure or otherwise, or with plug-in access. I anticipate needing something like that in the future in order to get around.

I'd not be so anxious to find a subsidized unit in a more accessible, secure building - not with SAFER, in another few months, starting to help me with the rent here - if the extra stairs weren't causing me problems and this building offered secure, ground-floor storage and plug-in options.

I don't really want to move. Regardless, I may have no choice but to stay. Private subsidized or public housing projects in BC are rare, which is another housing issue for people with special needs. Since I'll always need an animal companion, my housing options are thus even further limited.

Two subsidized housing places that allow pets came to my notice over the past year; one, thanks to a reader. I've applied to both but have heard back from only one of them, confirming receipt of my application and advising I'm on their list. Both would be nice places to live, so that's where my hopes lie now.

Necessities: Laundry

I've two challenges to keeping my clothes, linen and towels clean: affordability and back pain from scoliosis that developed from a childhood injury. Regarding affordability, recall that I've $783.24 left, annually, to pay for everything else after shelter costs.

To save the most amount of money, hand washing my laundry would be the obvious, ideal choice. It would save the $1.50 for the automatic washer that is three floors below me. If I could hand wash my clothes daily, then the fact I've little room for drying things - one drying rack and a shower rail - would also save the $1.50 for the dryer.

The condition of my back makes that most economical choice unfeasible. Washing underwear might be done at the bathroom sink, in small stints so the pain in my back from standing could be avoided. Alternatively, I might wash my underwear in the tub when I take my baths.

That is precisely what I used to do. Alas, I don't take baths anymore because I can't afford the smelly, water-softening, skin-softening stuff I used to use. Baths without that lovely stuff (which soothed my starved senses too) dry out my already dry skin. Ergo, it's nix on baths and nix on washing my underwear when I bathe.

Larger clothing and other items would have to be washed in the tub. Nix on that too.

Leaning over for any length of time, not to mention scrubbing while in that position, is extremely painful and to be avoided. (It's bad enough when I clean the tub.) The same can be said for folding laundry, of all the silly things. When folding laundry, one leans slightly forward. For the average load, folding can take several minutes. For me, that translates into a lot of pain.

Next choice after hand washing is reducing the number of times I use the washing machine and dryer. My mother used to do laundry once a week and there were three of us. Back then, one wasn't expected to change one's outer clothing or linen or towels everyday, just one's underwear. (I was taught to wear the same bra for one week.) So conceivably, I could go three weeks if I had enough clothes, etc. to last me that long.

It took me awhile but now I've enough underwear and towels (not bed linen) to do that and I continue the tradition of wearing the same outer clothing for several days.

That still isn't good enough, though. I can't afford to spend $3.00 every three weeks for the machines, plus the cost of detergent, not unless I cut back on my food intake even more, which I'm not willing to do.

So what choices are left to me?

  • hand wash underwear everyday in the bathroom sink;
  • wear the same outer clothing and use the same towels and linen until they fail the sniff test;
  • do one washing load - whites or colours - no more than once every six weeks;
  • use my shower rail and drying rack whenever possible to avoid having to use the dryer;
  • 'order' a new-old drying rack from my local ReUseIt and hope to get one or more positive responses so I can eliminate the dryer altogether.

Shall update this post should the latter happen. As for bed linen, I've begun to entertain the possibility of eliminating it entirely. I simply can't keep up.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Health: Dental Care

If you live in the poverty well and are not receiving welfare or disability benefits, your dental coverage is up to you. For someone like me, that means no professional service at all. No checkups, no cavities filled, no tooth extractions. Zilch.

If you're an adult on welfare in British Columbia you're not much better off. The only 'dental care' that is covered is tooth extraction. Again, no oral exams, no fillings; and you can forget permanent or temporary replacements for your teeth. Even with extractions, you can run into problems. Dentists are reluctant to do them at all or in a timely fashion because the BC government pays them (eventually) according to a long outdated fee schedule.

No access to dental care results in more than the obvious, i.e. it affects more than 'mere' aesthetics (which is important given how the condition of your mouth affects your smile and the way people perceive you) or the ability to chew food or the maintenance of overall good health.

No access to professional care also affects one's ability to communicate.

I was always conscious when facilitating workshops and doing presentations for WISE of the extra care I must take not to slur my words.

You see, my teeth have eroded. Three molars were extracted over a decade ago. This was back when I had dental coverage under a university student plan. I wish the dentist had recommended filling instead, which he should have done. I suspect he anticipated insured replacement work.

In addition, two of my remaining molars are chipped. Another has a gaping hole in it, a result of its ancient filling having fallen out. I chew my food very carefully - more gumming it than anything else - to preserve what teeth I have left.

All of which means my cheeks have sunk in and affect my ability to articulate properly.

When doing presentations or workshops for WISE I had to make a conscious effort to try to open my already naturally small mouth wider to enable my words to be shaped properly. This was a constant concern and a physical challenge and it added to my tension of speaking in public.

If I could be granted one wish, it would be to have my mouth fixed.

ETA: Regarding the "free" dental clinic in Victoria which Melissa mentioned below in the comments section, a friend wrote to them because, she said, she was curious. Here's a portion of their response:
We are NOT a free dental clinic; we are a non-profit organization, which operates through a small subsidization from the Vancouver Health Authority and fundraising, so therefore we are not able to provide “free care.” However, we do see patients on Government Assistance ... without charging above and beyond what the Ministry will cover. [This is no different than any BC dentist is permitted to do. --Ocean] For people with no dental coverage we offer a 30% discount to help off-set the cost of dental care.
While the 30 percent reduction off their regular rates may help a subset of people who live below the poverty line, it doesn't help those living in the lowest decile of income, as Daphne and I do, and that's regardless of whether you live in Victoria, which Daphne and I don't. Travel to the clinic via public transit from where we live would cost a minimum $20.

This part makes me ill. It indicates how desperate the need is for dental coverage for all, not just for people with employee-based dental plans or the well-to-do:
We are currently booking several months down the road, into November/December for both cleanings and dental work such as fillings. If you have an emergency that cannot wait that long, we offer “walk ins” between booked appointments, as time allows, Monday through Friday. If you want to come see us that way, you need to be here no later than 8am to line up, as the line up begins before we open the doors at 9:00am.
Incidentally, until last fall, neither bus nor commuter train could get someone who lived in the Cowichan Valley - which is about 45 minutes away by car - to Victoria before 10am, Monday to Friday. In the reverse direction, yes, but to Victoria, where the jobs are, no. How brilliant was that, eh?

Necessities: Personal grooming

What were once deemed necessities are no more.

The changes described below originally occurred because my finances forced them. The original adjustment to cutting back on modern grooming and hygiene techniques, together with their associated over-hyped products, was painful. However, having finally adapted I doubt I'd return to my previous habits, even if money did come my way... At least... I think so... There is that issue of changing values I've mentioned before, a phenomenon that can be essential to personal survival.

Professional hair cut: Last time I went to a hair salon was in 2001. Ever since, I've cut my own hair - evidence of which you can see here. At first, it was a difficult adjustment - I'd bought into the notion of professional hair cutting as a basic need -, but one does get used to it. I just grab chunks of hair in my fingers, usually with a twist; then cut. I go by the principle that as long as there's enough hair to grab, it's too long. (My hair IS very forgiving.)

I apply the same technique to the back of my head: simply grab chunks of hair and cut. I don't bother trying to see what I'm doing back there. I'd need three hands; one to hold the mirror, one to grab, the other to do the cutting. My cutting implements are the scissors I formerly used to cut fabric to make dance costumes. (I'd be thrilled to have proper hair scissors!)

It also helps in the adjustment that I no longer care what I look like - part of the new lesson being the not caring itself. There have been times this has been a most needful thing. Like those occasions when I've given myself a lopsided haircut and, in trying to fix it, have ended up shorn to within half an inch of my scalp.

I adore the feeling of someone washing and massaging my scalp. Alas, I can't afford it and am on my own here in this wee abode. 

Shaving: No more razors, no more shaving cream, no wax or other goop. And no visits to a beauty salon to have the hair removal done for me.

The adjustment was difficult, particularly exposing my hairy legs during the warm months. I like to wear summer dresses (unfortunately, I've only one). My legs do appear to be less hairy than before I stopped shaving, or perhaps the hair has turned grey, like it has almost everywhere else. The hair is also less coarse, therefore again perhaps less visible for that reason.

Hairy armpits was an easier adjustment, especially since I no longer wear anything sleeveless. Again, the hair is more fine since I stopped shaving it.

Oral hygiene: I brush my teeth at least twice a day.

Long ago, I had one of those electric toothbrushes. Forget the brand, but the instructions for the device advised not to use toothpaste, that the brushing and one's own saliva were all that are needed for proper cleaning.

Still, it's nice to have toothpaste, so I do try to have it around. I use it very sparingly, though, a tiny bead on my toothbrush. When my supply gets low, there's no room in the budget to buy more and no free samples are handy, I've gone without toothpaste.

Toothbrushes I buy only when on sale.

I do floss - and rinse and reuse the floss over and over again. (We use our toothbrushes for ages. Why not floss?)

I have a strong, store brand, antibacterial mouthwash on standby. It's not for daily use or to freshen my breath. Every few applications I will dip my floss into it, but its primary purpose is for when I suspect there's something starting to go wrong in my mouth, like a burgeoning abscess or other sores. Then I swish that burning stuff around my mouth for 30 seconds every two hours. I do this at the first sign of trouble. The mouthwash trick does the job every time.

Washing: I spot clean - face, underarms, feet and nether regions - everyday at the bathroom sink and shower every third day.

I use soap only for underarms and - more sparingly - for my feet. The skin on my feet is very dry, hence why I use less soap on them. For some unaccountable reason, I've LOADS of soap. Can't imagine having to buy it ever again.

I've a skin condition that affects only my face. To avoid painful red spots appearing, I wash it using SpectroJel or the equivalent store brand and must apply, sparingly, a medicated cream. I also use the SpectroJel for my nether regions because I find soap to be too harsh.

In the shower, I use a scrubber for my entire body. And I do one heck of a job, too, scrubbing over and over again. Rather than coating my skin with a soapy film, the scrubbing removes dead skin cells and leaves my skin feeling soft and smooth as a baby's bottom.

I wash my hair every third day, when I shower. I use shampoo sparingly and never buy conditioner or other hair treatments. However, if I've conditioner on hand - say, a sample - I'll use a wee bit maybe once a month.

Lotions & Potions: No lotions. For dry skin I use what was recommended to a friend by her dermatologist: petroleum jelly. Either the Vaseline or store brand will do. (Not the lotion Vaseline Intensive Care; it's totally ineffective.) For extra stubborn areas, such as elbows or feet, apply the jelly liberally before bedtime, cover with something - like a tensor bandage or socks. In the morning you'll notice a substantial difference.

I use unscented deodorant, but sparingly.

No perfume.

No scented or unscented bath oils, beads or foam.

I miss those the most. My senses are keener than those of the average person and my mood is very responsive to colour, texture, scent and sound. My yearning for varied and exotic tastes I've learned to ignore. But I still pine to have candlelit baths in water softened and scented with natural oils, and for this place to be coloured 'me'.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentines Day Salute

Today, I spent a few cherished hours with a most resilient woman. As we swapped a synopsis of our lives, I was left breathless and impressed with the depth of her strength, endurance and patience. She shines, nay, glows with life, love and acceptance.

Our conversation reminds me that so many women, worldwide, triumph daily over adversary. I salute YOU, one and all.

Happy Valentines Day, womankind.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kiltie Comes Home: Pics!

From the last update to this post:

UPDATE Feb 12, 3:30pm: Kiltie is home and has already settled in. She's presently stretched out on my/our bed. I suspect she's in for a long sleep.

Brodie's reaction surprises me. This easy-going fellow, who treats other cats somewhat warily but otherwise is friendly enough with them, HISSED at Kiltie three four five times. So far. (ETA: Sigh. It's now too many times to count.) She does smell of where she's been, so perhaps that's why. His hissy fits haven't seemed to bother Kiltie.

Daphne took photos. Click on thumbnails for larger view.

UPDATE Feb 13, 5:00am: Poop! Kiltie was quite vocal when she was in the litter box, then scooted along the floor as soon as she exited. The BM was loose and substantial. I'd been expecting the opposite - hard and wee bits. Perhaps the loose stool is due to whatever had been (still is?) wrong previously in combo with upset due to her absence from home. Am hoping things solidify as the day goes on.

Brodie continues to have hissy-fits.

UPDATE Feb 14, 7:00am (and through course of night): Brodie's hissy-fits have reduced, as though he thinks a sudden cessation would be inconsistent. Between hissy-fits have been moments of love. Brodie, with ears on alert, yips his intentions while approaching Kiltie. If she'll tolerate it - as she more often does than not - he assumes Kiltie's back and tries to hump it. (Neither cat has all its equipment.)

There has been no poop since yesterday's 5:00am update. However, we haven't had our breakfast yet. If all goes according to our previous schedule, there will be a dump before noon. Fingers - and yes, paws - crossed.

By the way, Kiltie has been on my lap or at my feet almost constantly since she came home. She has always been an affectionate cat but this is somewhat more than usual. She's on my lap now, looking at me and purring loudly. It's good to feel her sweet warmth and hear her little noises again.

UPDATE Feb 15, 7:00am: Cats started playing together yesterday afternoon. No more Brodie hissy-fits. Kiltie pooped just now; looks more solid though the BM was still paler than usual. Otherwise, she seems back to her usual self.

UPDATE Feb 16, 7:00am: Kiltie vomited at 7:00am this morning. Like the incident on Feb 9th, it was rose-coloured slimey vomitus and contained what looked like only a few bits of food.

My finicky cat doesn't like the Finicky Cat food I put out this morning, so I changed it just now to Friskies Whitefish & Tuna flavour. She ate some of that. (She adores Fancy Feast Beef Feast flavour.) This food was provided by the SPCA, for which I'm grateful.

I'm used to the cats up-chucking fur balls, but not vomiting otherwise. Hope this is just an anomaly.

Reported to Sandi at SPCA. She says if this is just a random vomit, not to be concerned.

UPDATE Feb 18, 10:00am: No further vomit and Kiltie is eating and pooping normally.

Shelter As Investment

When did a home morph into 'real estate'? When did the roof over one's head transform into a 'market opportunity'? When did our society start viewing the place where we raise our families, lay our heads, withdraw to soothe hurts, draw sustenance from our animals and contentment from growing things become valued strictly in terms of monetary worth?

I read articles like this and I feel sick with fury. One owner of a three-bedroom $600,000 home has flipped it for $5,000 above the asking price and something larger. How nice for her.

In the meantime, housing solutions not just affordable but CHEAP are never considered for people who have no shelter whatever, are at risk of losing what they have, or live in substandard housing. Oftentimes already built, onsight solutions are outright rejected for fear homeless people will move into the neighbourhood.

The logic of the latter never fails to baffle me. If people who are presently homeless acquire shelter in your neighbourhood, do they not subsequently become NOT homeless? And why is it OK for you to have decent housing but not someone else? Who the hell are you that your life should count for more?

It's not rocket science to reduce homelessness only to those people who choose it as a lifestyle. (Yes, there are those who do choose it.)

Temporary measures include permitting and supporting tent cities, such as Dignity Village, not bulldozing them.* They include providing serviced parking areas for people whose homes are on wheels - cars, trailers.

Permanent solutions must begin by changing the municipal by-laws that effectively enshrine NIMBYism. In few communities is it possible under current laws for the construction of a village of tiny houses. In my own community, laneway housing is still not permitted, despite Vancouver's recent example. (Regarding the latter, $150,000 to $200,000, which includes BC Hydro servicing, are the costs typically mentioned for the construction of a tiny house on existing property. The City of Vancouver is allowing these laneway houses only to be rented. Why would property owners bother? The costs cited are absurd. A tiny house can be built for one-tenth the price.)

The tiny house movement has coincided with the green movement. Downsizing is in vogue. Municipal laws and other regulations pertaining to buying property and house construction haven't kept up.

The problem of affordable housing isn't one of lack of innovative ideas for shelter materials, construction and community design. The developers are out there who would build these things.

The problem isn't affordability of the shelters themselves. People in the US are building their own homes for NOTHING, from recycled scraps, from shipping containers, from old railway cars. Others are buying materials for under $3,000. Still others buy their tiny houses pre-built for under $25,000. Then there is the mobile home option: fifth wheels and other trailers. Too many used trailers to count sit unoccupied on RV dealer lots.

In other words, the problem isn't the HOUSING or the sheltering structure.

The problem is systemic NIMBYism, the failure of municipalities to accommodate changing community needs, the lack of will on the part of politicians at all levels of government to open their eyes and see where the problems truly lie, and the "I'm all right" attitude that blinds too many property owners from seeing the need for change that would ultimately benefit us all.

The problem is the LAND on which to place the housing, land whose use is not restricted by municipal laws. The problem is ALLOWABLE housing.

The problem has NOTHING TO DO WITH AFFORDABILITY and EVERYTHING to do with keeping 'those people' out.

*See especially Chapter 4 of that document. Former residents of Toronto's Tent City talk about their homes, their community - the place they felt most supported - having been destroyed.

Ranting of a Crone

I am, once again, awake. It is 4:45am. I fling back covers and stagger to the bathroom, splash cold water on my face, grab a washcloth, soak it in cold water to sponge my neck, arms and torso. Awake again at 5:08 am, 5:33 am, 6:07 am and finally at 7:10 am I kick off sticky, damp and tangled bedsheets, get up and dress for the day.

In September of 1999, my body began the agonizing feminine journey through menopause. The first two years were a mere 'warm-up' of things to come. For the next six years, I sweated through days and nights of bodily torture, surging with heat every forty minutes, each episode lasting anywhere from eight to twenty minutes. Trying to sleep became well-nigh impossible. I eventually lined my bed with wool blankets to wick up the moisture as I had been changing the sheets two and three times a night.

Sometime in October of 2008, the day time attacks began to lessen. I left my hand-held fan at home and put flannel sheets on the bed. However, around the same time, another phenomenon began and persists: without fail, just as I am about to drop off to sleep, the adrenaline builds in my core, sweat pours and I am awake again. Wide awake. These incidents continue throughout the night. The good thing, I suppose, is that the episodes only last three minutes, with another 10 minutes or so trying to return to sleep.

I dream many dreams through these unsettling nights as I fall quickly and briefly into the REM stage of sleep. Apparently, my body is taking care of me while I struggle through the change, allowing the deep rest necessary to bypass the serious consequences of sleep deprivation.

Medical intervention? Natural remedies? PAAH! Nothing works. And I've tried most, when finances allow. One option I refuse to try is Hormone Replacement Therapy. It is an intervention that will only prolong the inevitable, with varying degrees of success and dubious side effects.

It's RRSP Time Again!

From a post written to Challenging the Commonplace, as tax time approached a year ago...

The headline cracked me up: Study finds few eligible Canadians contribute to RRSPs.

Barely a third of Canadians who were entitled to make an RRSP contribution last year did, and the total amount contributed was only six per cent of what it could have been, Statistics Canada reported yesterday.

I've been deemed eligible to contribute to an RRSP every year since RRSPs came into being. But for the past eight years, my income has averaged $8,500 annually - that's right, $8,500 annually.

Where would anyone expect a person like me to find money to put into a RRSP; someone who, most years, doesn't even make enough to pay federal or provincial income tax?

Perhaps what's needed is for the eligibility criteria for participation in the RRSP program to be examined, rather than making it appear that taxpayers, particularly low income taxpayers, are clueless about the purported benefits of RRSPs. Said benefits do not accrue to all RRSP participants. In fact, there can be a cost for people whose household incomes are in the lowest two (of five) income categories.*

Rather than not contributing to a RRSP because they don't know any better, most low income earners are either too strapped to participate or too wise to give their hard-earned dollars to a program that benefits the more affluent at the expense of themselves.

*The CD Howe Institute study mentioned in the Times-Colonist article can be found here (PDF).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What's the Big Deal?

Ocean was brave enough to allow herself to be viewed for all to see. Recently, I was in town and decided to take my camera to Ocean to ask her to take some pictures. Of moi. I mean, if shy Ocean can post a picture, then it ought not to be such a trial for me, right? However, I find that as I age, I am less likely to want my picture taken.

Sheesh! What's the big deal?

Two pictures, then: Me at 50 years of age and now, at 59.

Barriers: Getting there

Until a couple of years ago, the Cowichan Valley, which in 2006 had a population of 79,000, hadn't buses running on Sundays, holidays or evenings. Now we do have that service. However, it's inaccessible to the people who could most use it.

It used to be that someone on welfare would automatically get free transit passes. No more. I've no idea when that policy changed, but it was more than five years ago. The issue came up time and again during the WISE project.

Rather than being provided free passes as part of their basic assistance, welfare recipients are required to ask for bus tickets of their 'financial aid' (FA)* workers. Rarely are they given tickets for other than attending job interviews.

This denial of transit fare doesn't stop FA workers from ordering their clients, seemingly at whim, to report in.
Four months ago, I got a red flag on my cheque, which says you’ve got to come in and straighten something out... She went through all my papers and finally found the information that was already there in my file. Then it got flagged again... They already had that information too. This month, it’s flagged again and I don’t know why. Each time I have to come in, I have to pay for the bus fare... It seems like every time I go in for one thing, I get sent off to another place for another thing. Then they want me to get something else. Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: p97f.
People of very low income who are not on welfare are no better off when it comes to access to public transportation. They don't get even the limited 'perks' - occasional bus tickets, coverage for tooth extraction, for example - that people on welfare do. People on disability benefits obtain further advantages, relatively speaking.

Victoria Regional Transit has announced a $0.25 single-fare increase along with attendant increases for passes, effective April. I expect similar increases for Cowichan transit. That will mean $2.00 for a single adult fare and $48 for a monthly pass.

That's not manageable for people whose household income is in the lowest decile income category and is why many of us must walk everywhere. That's not so bad if one is healthy and physically sound - and has good footwear -, but it is bad for people with conditions subject to being exacerbated by the wear and tear.

* Financial aid workers. Now that's a loaded tag, isn't it? As though people of very low income have no idea how to manage money. People like Daphne and I, and a whole lot of others, prove that assumption wrong. How else could one imagine we survive? Perhaps people suppose we can't manage money because they can't manage their own, let alone conceive of living as we do. More about this in coming posts.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Kiltie Update

Original post here, which includes the first update from 1:40 pm yesterday (see bottom of post).

At 11am this morning, I received an email from Sandi at the SPCA. She has force-fed Kiltie three times because she still refuses to eat.

So far, so good. No vomiting.

Sandi says she wants to keep Kiltie until she's had at least one good bowel movement. She also suggests that I visit Kiltie, to help relieve her stress.

A visit would also help relieve my stress.

Been scrambling to find a way to get out there. No buses go along that road or anywhere near it. I've sent an email to Daphne and one also to another person who might drive me there.

Have received cash to cover the gas expenses. It's for Kiltie.

UPDATE: Been unable to arrange a ride for today. Can't get to Kiltie. Am hoping I hear from someone so I can get to her tomorrow. The SPCA is 8.5 km away. No bus goes anywhere near it, all routes being many kilometres away so I can't even walk partway there. A taxi is way too much; got an estimate of "around" $22, one way.

Also just spoke to Sandi via the computer to tell her I wasn't able to come visit. She's giving Kiltie special food and dosed her with a treatment for hairballs. (It may be a compacted, deeply lodged hairball that is causing Kiltie to vomit.)

No vomiting since I took Kiltie in. No poop either. Sandi says if all looks OK tomorrow, then likely I can bring Kiltie home. Then we can stay in touch. My worry: Kiltie is holding everything in tight, including vomitus and stools, due to stress and that once she gets home she'll relax enough to start vomiting again.

UPDATE Feb 11, 3:00pm: Went to the SPCA today to visit Kiltie. Went with a local friend, Daisy.

Kiltie recognized me right away, as soon as I spoke to her. Came to me for pets and cuddles. Started purring and quivering her rear end, like cats do when they're very happy. She ate a few bits of kibble while I was there. Still no poops though.

I stayed for about 20 minutes. Daisy invited me to Wendy's, where we had tea and a baked potato, mine with broccoli and cheese.

UPDATE Feb 12, 11:55am: Received an email from Sandi. Kiltie is "peeing fine but no BM." She's eating a bit but very little, no vomiting. Sandi proposes I bring Kiltie home and see what she does, also feed her some human tuna, or salmon. "I'll give you some cans of what she's been eating in here.  We'll see how she is Monday and if she's still not eating and or vomiting again, we'll have to rethink."

Daphne is going to be in town today and has offered to take me to the SPCA this afternoon. So getting there isn't going to be a problem as it was on Wednesday.

I'd called a few moments previously and Sandi had been on the phone. So instead I had the opportunity to speak with Janine, another of the wonderful people at the Duncan SPCA. She said Kiltie is a sweetheart. Yea, that's my girl.

UPDATE Feb 12, 3:30pm: Kiltie is home and has already settled in. She's presently stretched out on my/our bed. I suspect she's in for a long sleep.

Brodie's reaction surprises me. This easy-going fellow, who treats other cats somewhat warily but otherwise is friendly enough with them, HISSED at Kiltie three times... so far. She does smell of where she's been, so perhaps that's why. His hissy fits haven't seemed to bother to Kiltie.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kiltie Goes to SPCA

I've thought about not writing this.

Our intention when starting this blog was to share our day-to-day lives in the poverty well, to put two human faces on it. It means sharing the decisions we make, the barriers we confront, the silly things we do, our talents, our faults, even certain toilet habits.

The point was to bring home the reality of two lives in poverty and their struggles to maintain dignity and a sense of self-worth. If readers have been following this blog since it launched January 1st, they'll have already detected the inner conflicts, the desire and determination to maintain X and not do Y while ultimately having to do Y anyway, and then the struggle to adjust to the new reality. For life in the poverty well, it's forever a struggle to adjust.

The following I began yesterday, at 2:30 in the afternoon, as I waited for Daphne to arrive with a car to transport Kiltie and I to the SPCA.


I'm crying as I write this.

Kiltie got sick again, was vomiting the past two days. An hour ago, she vomited blood. This condition is new and unlike the two urinary tract infections she had previously. Those appear to have cleared up entirely, thanks to a special diet paid for by a kind benefactor and several hit-and-miss series of antibiotics.

Kiltie and I have been together for ten years, ever since I rescued her when she was about eight weeks old.

Today, I can't keep doing it anymore. There's no money to have Kiltie go back to the vet, again, be examined, again, get x-rays and likely go to surgery. So I must do what I've dreaded having to do these past three years, since she first developed FLUTD. I've phoned Daphne and she's coming over. Together, we're going to the SPCA. They will take care of Kiltie in a way I can't. It's a no-kill, clean, caring shelter with lots of volunteers. I'm bringing the blanket Brodie uses so Kiltie will feel a sense of home; and a full prescription of Cipro that I've had standing by, just in case.


Last night was the first night without Kiltie. Emotionally exhausted, I slept 11 hours. Brodie and I cuddled more than usual, last night and again this morning.

Tonight or tomorrow night we may have Kiltie back. The lady at the SPCA - manager Sandi Trent, it turns out - said they'd prefer to keep Kiltie with me ... if it's possible; that they'd likely not be able to find Kiltie a new home, given her age and maybe needing special care.

Sandi said to leave Kiltie with them for a day or two and for me to call her later today. They'll get Kiltie vet-checked, monitor her condition and see what they can do to support her staying with me... And I'm crying all over again, dammit.

People who make the blanket declaration that poor people shouldn't have pets have no clue.

Did you pick up above that I rescued Kiltie? She's had ten years of life, a good life in a home where she has been much loved. Those ten years she likely wouldn't have had.

Kiltie and Brodie (I rescued him too*) have also been my lifeline. Too many times to count, their presence prevented my suicide. As a mother would feel about her children, I couldn't, wouldn't, leave my two furry companions without someone to care for them. They needed me, someone, to make sure they were alright. I'd wonder what would happen if I died and feared no one would take the two cats in; or if they did, it wouldn't be a good home and then they'd be abused or die.

Kiltie and Brodie are the only reasons I kept going through some terrible years, including the years I was doing the WISE project.

I will always need an animal companion. They help me maintain my humanity....

Which brings up the point of BC's anti-pets tenancy act. Rarely in this province can one find a rental unit - private, subsidized or public - that permits animal companions.

*Foolishly, in late 2000 I expected to become employed. Didn't want Kiltie to be alone all day, hence I got a second cat. Never did get anything but brief, contract or part-time employment.

ETA: It's 1:40pm and I've just spoken with Sandi at the SPCA using SkypeOut (as I did to contact Daphne - I haven't a phone). Kiltie's vet hasn't returned Sandi's call yet. Kiltie hasn't eaten since she arrived but there's also been no vomiting. Sandi will keep her there another day. We're both thinking Kiltie may not be eating due to stress (as her human). If she still hasn't eaten by tomorrow afternoon, Sandi may take her home to her place and put her in a room of her own so she might settle down. Either way, there's two of us now concerned with Kiltie's health and I feel relieved Kiltie is in good, caring hands.

See also this and this follow-up.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Skinny Savings Slowly Sinking

As with Ocean, I have applied for CPP at the age of 60, which comes, for me, in December of this year. The CPP income will be $261 a month.

Since I retired from paid work in June of 2009, my skinny savings have been sinking.

Last year my total income was $2,646.00 which came from two part-time jobs. This year I am relying on GST rebates at $760 for the year and a meager savings account that is around $2,500. I also have the same amount in investments which dwindles as the world market continues it's nose dive.

Currently, I receive $500 a month from my roommate/friend which covers the basics to run the house. This includes hydro, water, recycling, telephone/internet, house insurance/property taxes and the wood that is burned for heat. There is even $77 left over for general household maintenance. Some repairs, such as the gutters which were torn off during 2008/09's snowy season, have been let go, as I cannot gather enough to cover the expense.

While working, I had a modicum of financial security, but that has since dissolved. As I'm an expert on making ends meet I will continue the challenge to feed, clothe, shelter myself and live with a dignity that only a person hanging on by a thread can do.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Barriers: Strings

There's a supposition in this society with its gap-worn social safety net that the people who need assistance can and will access the services they need for everyday survival. However, there are barriers beyond the obvious that can prevent people from applying for help. For a subset of those in poverty, the reason lies far in their childhood, as was demonstrated in the WISE project.

It's about being beholden. If you've a background of longterm childhood abuse, particularly by a full-time parent or guardian, then you've learned never to ask for help, to fear asking for help, and never to accept gifts. You've learned that if you do, there are always strings attached. You've learned that if you tell other people and ask for their help, they won't believe you and things will only get worse.

Just raising your voice can be difficult. For my first 16 years, barely a word passed my lips.

You also work hard not to need. If you fail in that, then you may be tempted to ask for help. And if you need, then you are somehow deficient and therefore unworthy of help anyway. This is another lesson you have learned.

Leaving those years behind is rarely possible when the abuse was sustained over your developmental years. You absorb that lesson so deep that it reaches into your DNA, and no matter how hard you try later to tell yourself it's OK, even attempting to accept help causes severe reactions. I can go catatonic and at other times have lashed out at and dissociated from people who tried to help me.

You will do just about anything to avoid situations in which people have hands reaching out; even if it's to your own health's detriment. It's why the availability of paid work, or fair exchange, can be so critical to a life, the money being the least reason why someone may need to work.

In the WISE project, childhood trauma was shown to be the number one longterm predictor for future poverty for women.

Think about what that means in the context of the people you may know who are desperately poor and who you may want to help. If they say "I'd rather be homeless than on the system" or "I don't want to go to a shelter" or "Leave me alone," believe them and honour what they say. Despite all your good intentions you could do harm if you push. Instead, respect that such people know what's best for them, even if you don't agree. Their autonomy can be a greater need for personal survival than shelter or food or clothing. If you are fortunate and are the real deal, they may allow you time to become their friend and to gain their trust.

We can relate this issue to certain policy to address poverty.

If Conservative Senator Hugh Segal, Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, the former members of WISE, and other advocates for policy reform, were to have their way, Canadians would be guaranteed a basic annual income, obtained through a negative income tax. Such a pro-active program would replace our present, punitive, gap-worn welfare and other needs-based systems, and the people I describe would not be confronted with a situation for which they have no tools to cope.

Budgeting: On approaching age 60

Having given the finer details of the why, how, and how much of my annual income, it's time to consider the future.

As I fell deeper and deeper into the poverty well in the early 2000s, all I could think of, between bouts of depression so bad all I wanted to do was pack it in, was trying to survive long enough to be eligible for CPP and BC's Supplementary Assistance For Elderly Renters (SAFER).

I turn 60 in July.

My CPP payments will begin late August and likely be around $265. I assume my rent will go to $510 or slightly more starting in July, so my SAFER supplement will be about $387. Assuming these figures to be right, my monthly income from these two sources will be $652. It's not enough, despite it being about the same amount I've been living on the past several years. It's not enough, because costs keep going up.

All along, I've known I'd have to keep some of my savings aside to bolster the income during those 60 months between age 60, when I'm eligible for CPP and SAFER and age 65, when I can start Old Age Security, the Guaranteed Income Supplement and BC's senior supplement.

I don't know how I'm going to do it. I've wondered out loud to a friend whether it wouldn't be better to go homeless now, at age 59, rather than be so at 63 or 64. Am I naive to hope that something will 'give' in the interim and by that time I'll be OK?

Because as I look at things now, it's either do that, go homeless now for a year or two and so save what's left or in fact, become homeless just as I turn 64 ... if I can make my savings last even that long.

The Why and How of a Lowest Decile Household

Daphne and I have mentioned that each of our households is in the lowest decile of income categories. That's half again Statistics Canada's low-income cut offs (LICOs), which are measured at the lowest quintile of household incomes.

Here are the LICOs for 2008 for family sizes of one to four persons:

LOWEST QUINTILE (one-fifth):

Community Size
Under 30K30K-100K100K-500KOver 500K
Family sizeAnnual household income
1 person12,01913,75415,34415,53818,373
2 persons14,62816,74118,67618,91122,361
3 persons18,21520,84523,25523,54827,844
4 persons22,72426,00729,01329,37834,738

The list continues for families of 5, 6, and 7 or more persons.

Daphne and I each live in the Cowichan Valley, which has numerous smallish communities. At last census, the Valley's total population was 79,000. It has seen a big box boom in recent years, so we're likely closer to 100,000 now.

For the table below, I've divided the LICOs into two, to show what the lowest decile of income looks like:

LOWEST DECILE (one-tenth):

Community Size
Under 30K30K-100K100K-500KOver 500K
Family sizeAnnual household income
1 person6,0106,8777,6727,7699,187
2 persons7,3148,3729,3389,45611,181
3 persons9,10810,42311,62811,77413,922
4 persons11,36213,00414,50714,68917,369

This is the level at which Daphne and I subsist.


My income is so low because I can't do the work that is available in this community. Few jobs are anything but retail. That requires standing for long hours, reaching, twisting, bending. I've a bad hip from an old injury sustained in childhood. The wear and tear on the hip, and the associated scoliosis and arthritis that developed cause considerable pain. I can't do retail. And probably shouldn't, likely being an Aspie as well; however, I'd like to have given it a go.

I saved while still able to work because I knew it would get to this point. On a salary of only $12,500 per year, for the last four years ending December 2006, I saved $5,000 each year. That is, I saved $20,000... which makes my head explode when I read about people far more affluent who bury their heads in the sand.

During the 1990s, starting at the age of 41, I'd been a full-time student, so at the end of 2000, I also had $4,000 left from a doctoral fellowship.

That's what I've been living on ever since, that $24,000 plus interest, together with sales tax rebates and the very rare web design, research or writing contract. Of course, three years later, it's not $24,000 anymore.

People may wonder (I have at times) why I don't - or didn't - just spend my money, live relatively high on the hog for a year and then apply for 'financial assistance', i.e., welfare or disability benefits.

Well here's the thing: I have no dependent children, am fiercely independent, can't ask for help, have a hard time accepting gifts for the same reason, and loathe people trying to interfere with or control my life, also for the same reason. No way will I subject myself to this province's punitive welfare system, not with a childhood history of longterm abuse.

As for disability benefits, you must, in addition to everything else related to the degrading, demoralizing, dehumanizing application process - in BC you must apply for welfare before you can apply for disability benefits -, subject yourself to doctors who don't know you from Adam and resent the time they must spend filling out 30-page forms.

All of which explains why I've tried to live on no more than $8,500 annually for the last nine years (actually, $8,500 from 2001 to 2007 and $7,500 since 2008). Unfortunately, the interest on my shrinking balance hasn't kept up with the rising costs of shelter and food. Ergo, I've been falling behind each of those years.

Consider rent, now $486 per month. In 2003, it was $400 per month.

Hydro has stayed just about the same, at $12 per month. Barebones shelter, then, is $5,976 annually. That's almost 80 percent of my annual household income.

I've no phone. Instead I maintain a high-speed internet connection for reasons I've stated previously. The cost for that is $49.23 per month or $590.76 per year. I wish Canada had a policy that promoted internet access for all, since staying connected is essential for participation in a modern society.

Add up my costs so far - rent $5,976, hydro $144, internet $596.76 - and the annual total is $6.716.76. That leaves $783.24 for everything else.

So there you go, one budgetary tale of life in the poverty well ... to be continued.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Day in the Life: Visiting the Food Bank

A week ago, I described one of the ways in which the food bank culture limits choice.

Almost two years ago, in a post on Challenging the Commonplace, I wondered how much thinner I could slice my bread. Since then, of course, bread prices have shot up even further, as have the prices of flour, yeast, molasses, honey and oil - all ingredients for making whole wheat bread in a bread-making machine.

I acquired one of those machines not long after writing that post, thanks to friend Daphne. And for almost a year I did make my own bread. Then those prices went up and up and up and I couldn't do that anymore either.

All of which is a roundabout way of telling you why I visited the food bank today. It was to get bread.

It was my third visit in as many months. Only to get bread, you understand, not to stop for a meal or to sign up for a hamper once a month. I don't do well in social situations and asking for help is a non-starter, so I would go in, get my bread, and quickly exit.

Each time I've been to the food bank, I couldn't help but notice the brightly-coloured food laid out on the table directly behind me, opposite the bread shelves; with plates and utensils alongside, inviting anyone who wanted to, to sit down and dig in.

So, yes, today I went to the food bank, to do my grab-bread-and-run errand.

But it was not quite run. It was more like a slow inch-by-inch exit with eyeballs glued in the opposite direction to that of my body.

Having exited, I headed off to Sears to pick up two camisoles I'd purchased on a gift card - thanks to the reward points I'd earned from having made wise use of my credit card. All the while I thought of those cold salad dishes at the food bank: wild rice mixed with tomato and what looked like currants, seeds and onion and a great bowl of mixed leafy greens. There was more, but those were the two dishes I'd had my eyes on.

Still thinking of the food, from Sears I went to the pet store to get some canned stuff for Kiltie, who needs a special diet. She eats better than the human, natch.

I returned home by way of the street that has the food bank. And walked into the building. Went directly to that table, grabbed a small plate and fork, put a scoop of wild rice mix and another of greens on the plate, sat down and ate.

Oh. My. Goodness. It felt like my damn veins were flowing like a spring river, the food was that good; and I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the different textures either.

We are fortunate in the Cowichan Valley. Over the past two years or so, our local community gardens have set aside a place for growing food for the food bank. That explains why the spreads at the no-longer-just-soup kitchen include fresh fruit and veggies over our long growing season. But how our food bank is managing it in the off-season I don't know. Regardless, this is one very grateful recipient.

Today was my first meal at the food bank. I may eat some more meals there.

Thank you to the people who run the Cowichan Valley Basket Society, including Dave the cook, and the driving force that is Betty Anne Devitt. Thank you to the grocers and the people of the Valley who make such nutritious food available.

Compare the Stats: WISE book beat the odds

New readers may not know that I (Chrystal Ocean) was the Founder of WISE (Wellbeing through Inclusion Socially & Economically), a group created for and led by women in poverty. WISE folded in late 2006 due to cuts and changes to Status of Women Canada.

In the short period of its existence WISE changed lives. Its work continues to do so.

WISE's first project had many unexpected and welcome outcomes. They included the 192-page book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front.

A book not being part of the objectives for which WISE received its small Status of Women grant, I wrote, designed, published, arranged - and then paid for - printing of the book myself. It includes both the stories of the 21 women who participated in the project and the two project reports: an analysis of the issues and the storytellers' recommendations for change. It made no sense to any of us that our stories never be heard or read by others, except only by the funder.

One thousand copies of the book were sold. Now I learn how very well the book did compared to the number of books produced each year.

According to BookScan, which tracks most bookstore, online, and other retail sales of books, only 299 million books were sold in 2008 in the U.S. in all adult nonfiction categories combined. The average U.S. book is now selling less than 250 copies per year and less than 3,000 copies over its lifetime.

Consider these facts:
  • The Canadian book publishing market is 1/10th the size of the US market.
  • A book researched, written, designed and published by a woman living in poverty in a small Canadian community sold 1,000 copies.
  • The podcast site for the book is approaching 15,000 24,000 30,000 visits.
  • Academics regularly use the podcast site for teaching purposes.
  • In answer to demand, the book is now selling in electronic form. That is, I'm making available the PDF files, cover and manuscript, that I sent to the printer. (Some people expect me to distribute the electronic form of my work for free. Such thinking suggests a double standard; ask most academics to do that and they'd go apoplectic.)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Flushing Money Away

Daphne writes today about the cost of food and other goods her household consumes over the course of a month. Note these three things: Daphne counts, and accounts for, every penny; there's a furry resident in her household; her reflections on alternatives to toilet paper.

While most people treat the one-cent coin as throwaway, we value it. Last month, Daphne spent $107.93 on food. That's 10,793 pennies; or 360 pennies per day. Not a heck of a lot. 

I record all my expenses using an old version of Quicken Basic. I even break down the Groceries category into sub-categories: Bread, Dairy, Fruit-Veggies, Other Carbs, Protein, Treats. There's a separate category for Household and Medicine.

By the way, I've no idea why I still pay an amount for my thyroid medication. Given zero income and BC's Pharmacare, it shouldn't be happening. Yet last month I was charged $4.76. Think about that. That's 476 pennies. Consider the above per day penny count for Daphne. I work to keep my daily expenditures under 200 pennies.

Note that Daphne's is a three-person household. (I include Kitty in that number, natch.) My household also has three residents. We've had some desperate trials over the past few months. All has worked out but there are likely bad times ahead.

Then there's toilet paper. It's a horrible thought that we flush money away like that. As with Daphne, I've gone over the alternatives. And there are some months, more of them lately than a couple of years ago, when I do the dampen-cloth-wipe-and-rinse procedure.

Can't quite (yet) bring myself to the, er, shittier application of the cloth. But hand-washing at the sink after each piddle I've become accustomed to. In fact, I'm ALMOST coming to prefer it. When you think about it, a clean damp cloth does keep one's nether regions cleaner, fresher. And it's good for the environment!

Not that I'm advocating for it, you understand.

ETA: When writing this post, I assumed Daph's frugal food budget covered both humans in her household. My mistake and I'm glad of it.

Frugal Food Budget

In my last post I wrote about WHAT I eat on a daily basis but left out the cost factor. Here it is:

To start, I keep a spread sheet to track exactly where my money goes. Last month, my total bill for food was $107.93. A further $8.98 was spent on other items that I must have.

The most important of the non-food items is the $3.99 I expend on cat food. Unfortunately, it is the cheapest brand the stores have to offer. Fortunately, my precious feline resident doesn't seem to mind, bless her furry little heart.

The other is toilet paper costing $4.99 per month. Imagine having to find an alternative for that! I have contemplated cutting up worn out flannel pillowcases and sewing piles of hankie-sized 'sheets'. However, after considering the extra laundry soap and electricity to operate the washer that would be consumed, not to mention the yuck factor, I opted to buy the bathroom tissue. And I refuse to entertain the idea of scrunching up bits of unprinted newspaper....

The largest portion paid out is for produce at $83.71. Nuts and seeds are $15.91. Finally the three food 'have-to-haves' that don't fit in the first two categories are tea at $3.99, nutritional yeast at $2.72 and spices at $1.60.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

WISE Book Available in E-Book Format

Are you interested in obtaining an electronic version of my book Policies of Exclusion, Poverty & Health: Stories from the front, which was written for WISE?

WISE sold out its book inventory early in 2007 - a coup given the book was 100 percent researched, written, designed and published by women in poverty; and the group sold 1,000 copies. An electronic version of the 192-page book is available in PDF format, suitable for desktop viewing.

The soft-cover edition sold for $25, plus shipping and handling. The e-book version - same book, different format - sells for $10. Because it's deliverable by email, there are no additional charges.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Day in the Life: Daph's Daily Intake

Unlike Ocean, I only eat twice a day. So boring, I know, but it works for me and my pocket book.

Breakfast starts by boiling water, adding fresh squeezed lemon juice to make a hot beverage. I usually drink two or three cups over two hours. Next is an apple, cored and carefully sliced into eighths, followed by an orange or grapefruit, if I have any, which depends upon price and availability. I wait for half an hour then indulge in 12 - 15 pre-soaked and de-skinned almonds. Around 11 am I use a blender to whip up a concoction consisting of 1/3 cup steel cut oats, two dried dates, four raw cashews and a sprinkle of quinoa that have been soaked in water overnight. The quinoa have sprouted, resulting in increased food value. I process this assortment of organic grains, after adding a little more water, till it is the consistency of paste. Sounds terrible but tastes great! Really.

I brew up a pot of Chinese tea to sip on during the day, adding hot water as the tea cools.

Dinner always begins by digging into a mixed greens salad tossed with my own dressing, topped with sunflower or sesame seeds, a few mung bean sprouts and sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Entrees consist of raw dips, served with uncooked vegetables and flax/garlic/ginger crackers. This early evening meal varies somewhat, depending on sale items in the produce section, my finances and my fancies.

I do treat myself, occasionally, to avocado, sun-dried tomato, baby bok choy, pears or fresh dates.

If I snack at night, my preference is fruit.

That's it!

Monday, February 1, 2010

BC "the best place on earth"

... tries to whitewash its Olympic message about homelessness.

According to the BC Government's Downtown Eastside 'Information' Centre (DTESIC):

  • Lack of affordable housing isn't the problem.
  • Lack of housing, period, isn't the problem.
  • Lack of LAND for affordable - even CHEAP - housing solutions isn't the problem.
  • Lack of municipalities with by-laws that encourage, rather than discourage, innovation in housing and housing density isn't the problem.

The problem of homelessness according to the DTESIC is apparently due to the unaccountable rise of mental illness. Thus the problem of homelessness in BC has to do with too many people here being mentally ill.

Because we all know homelessness is caused by mental illness, right?


"They say that homelessness is about addiction and mental illness; it's not true," says Wendy Pederson of Carnegie Community Action Project. "We have a housing supply problem. We don't have low-income housing in this city. We have an income problem. We need to raise welfare."

Now that's the truth of the matter but let's not have truth interfere with our propaganda.

[Cross-posted at Challenging the Commonplace]

A Day in the Life: Lunch and Snacks

I tend toward grazing.

Am also a recently lapsed vegan. A few weeks ago, I developed a strong craving for eggs and old cheddar cheese. The craving became all-consuming. Since a small child, whenever I've been sick I've craved those foods. Didn't matter that I might get sick after eating them; I craved those flavours and textures. Since my body might be trying to tell me something, two weeks ago I relented and bought a dozen eggs. The cheese will follow when it's next on sale.

Three meals a day has never worked for me; four or five is more like it. The following is a full day of meals and snacks:

  1. Breakfast: Between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. Oatmeal, unless there's a problem as described in link.
  2. Snack: Between 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Four ounces or 120 ml of orange juice.
    The orange juice is made from concentrate. Why cart home water? That's what you do when you buy orange juice in bottles or cartons. Add water from your own tap instead. Directions call for 3 cans of water to 1 can of concentrate. I use 4 cans of water, so get almost two quarts or litres of OJ. Lasts me over two weeks.
  3. Lunch: 1:30 to 2 p.m. One boiled egg OR one-half slice of whole wheat bread spread with homemade hummus OR one-half slice of whole wheat bread with one ounce of old cheddar cheese. My hummus has more water in it than usually called for in recipes. The bread I've recently started getting at the food bank. I try to have a dark leafy green vegetable on hand. If available, I eat some of that too, wrapped around the cheese, hummus bread or egg, or on its own.
  4. Supper: 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. My lentil concoction.
  5. Snack: Before 8:00 p.m. Eight to 12 almonds OR one apple. The number of almonds depends on their price. A typical sale price is $0.99/100 grams or $9.90/kg from the bulk bin. Regular price has been as high as $18.90/kg. I won't pay that. I buy 1/2kg at a time and store the almonds in the freezer (as I do the bread). I love a good crunchy apple but can't manage to have them all the time. If the price works out to 20 cents per apple or less, then I may buy a large bag of them.

Recently I won some free coffee, so my days start with that now, suitably diluted. A great treat.

Am very sensitive to caffeine, so the rest of the day I drink rooibos tea (a naturally decaffeinated tisane) which I buy in bulk from Upton Tea Imports in the US. Would love to buy my rooibos locally but prices are more than double here, even with the exchange rate and shipping costs factored in. For a total of $40.00 I get enough rooibos to last up to 14 months.

In the late afternoon and evening, I start adding soy milk to my tea. Totals to about 1/2 cup or 125ml per day.

ETA: I try to follow the above but, like today, it seems like a lot to eat. And I get distracted with my unpaid activist writing and miss one, sometimes two, of those meals or snacks. Usually it's the evening snack I skip; more rarely, it's lunch. I NEVER skip breakfast or snack #2, the orange juice.

ETA March 20, 2010: Well, that was a short experiment. Have resumed my vegan diet. So no more eggs, no more cheddar cheese. Didn't like their results.

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