Thursday, September 30, 2010

SAFER - Week 11 and the Waiting Continues

It's week 11. My application to BC's SAFER program (Supplementary Aid for Elderly Renters) arrived at the SAFER office on July 19th.

On four separate occasions since then, I've tried to follow-up with documents that verified the amount of my then yet-to-be-started payments from the Canada Pension Plan. (They commenced August 27th.) When I was preparing my application in July, I'd looked up my Service Canada account, hoping to see confirmation of the CPP payment amount there. Nothing. When I checked in August, my account showed the amount to be $295.55. In my cover letter to the SAFER application I'd written that I would send supporting documentation of the CPP monthly amount as soon as I received it.

August 11: I phone SAFER, not expecting anything will have been done yet on my application but wanting to know how long the process will take - "eight to ten weeks" - and whether there is a way, other than snail mail, to get documents to SAFER. I am given the BC Housing email address used for document dumps. I send an email immediately with an e-printout of my Service Canada account which shows the CPP payment amount. I receive an auto response confirming receipt of my email by BC Housing.

September 3: I phone SAFER (Kevin), asking what's up with my application and expecting confirmation they've the document I emailed August 11. They haven't. I am advised to send a fax instead to a specified number. Since I haven't a phone, I use a web-based fax service that allows the first fax to be free. In addition to the Service Canada printout, I include an e-printout of all activity during August on my credit union account. It shows receipt of my first CPP payment of $295.55. My fax is confirmed to have been sent to the correct number.

September 28: Enter week 11. I phone SAFER (Nicole), asking what's up with my application and expecting confirmation they've the documents I faxed on September 3. They haven't. My application sits unseen. I am advised to send another email and to call again in two days. I send the email immediately and receive the auto response that it has been received by BC Housing.

September 30: I phone SAFER (Stephanie), asking what's up with my application and expecting confirmation they've the documents I emailed two days previously. They haven't. I am advised that the person who usually monitors (!) the email and fax document station is away today and to send another email immediately. Stephanie will check in one hour with the person currently at that station and call me to let me know if my email was received. I tell Stephanie I haven't a phone and ask that she email me instead. She tells me they're not permitted to send external emails - a common policy of government departments. (In this case, it means the SAFER office can't contact me except by snail mail. What if there's a question that holds up my application's approval? More delay.) I tell Stephanie I've just sent the email while we were speaking. Two seconds later, I report receiving the auto response. She puts me on hold. IT'S THERE!!! Documents are being printed.

Stephanie says that applications received the week of July 12th are now being processed. Which means maybe, just maybe, mine might get looked at next. Enter week 12.

ETA: Was resolved in Week 13, with effective date August 1 and first (three-months) payment to be received October 31st.

I love this story...

Another Living Wage community is coming to British Columbia, thereby doubling the number in Canada to two.

New Westminster led the way.

In New Westminster the living wage applies to people working directly for the city, as well as contractors who spend a significant amount of time on city property. Most city employees were already paid decently, so bringing everyone up to a living wage cost just $20,000 more a year, [New Westminster councilor Jaime McEvoy] said. Helping contractors, and it turned out there were 60 or 70 of them doing everything from maintaining street lights to shredding paper, meet the wage requirement required another $150,000 in increased payments.

Cities often give business to the lowest bidder, he said. "Then you're part of the problem and we were part of the problem, to be honest."

Looks like the Township of Esquimalt on Vancouver Island is about to follow New Westminster's lead.

More and more cities in the US (Portland, Oregon is one example) and now in Canada are taking control over issues that upper level governments persist in ignoring. Just yesterday was news of a Canadian city (can't remember which one) that was implementing its own tough environmental policy.

I'm really pleased about this. We need our communities and local politicians to exercise more clout. Perhaps as more of them do, more residents will become socially and politically engaged at the local level. That can never be a bad thing. One distinct advantage: if your local councillor ignores your phone calls, letters or emails, you can drop by for a neighbourly chat.

Our federal and provincial governments show little regard for the problems cities are facing and pay only lip service to our communities' representative organizations (e.g, the Union of Canadian Municipalities). That must change.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Thank You Very Much

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be on the receiving end of others' goodwill?

A personal example: Someone I did not know in my neighbourhood somehow knew I and my small family were without all the trimmings for a Christmas dinner. They arrive at my door on December 25th, brimming with good intent, goodies in hand to give us. I ought to have been grateful; in awe of their kind thoughtfulness and to thank them profusely for thinking of us. But, for me, this was demeaning, soul destroying and downright embarrassing. I took everything and thanked them but didn't eat the turkey as we were/are vegans.

If this were a gift economy, the matter would never come up, because gift economies are essentially giving circles, not chains from giver to givee. But in cultures where charity is preferred over government programs that universally fill in the gaps, there must always be someone who needs. How else can 'Christian charity' be exercised and thus through such selfless acts the givers receive additional blessing? (So how 'selfless' is it? Charity is a requirement of the Christian faith.)

Yea, Ocean and I get that giving feels good. We'd like to help a whole lot more than we already do (yes, we help one another). Where and when it's welcome. Where and when it preserves the dignity and autonomy of the recipient. Not for our own damn sakes, because it feels so good or because our 'souls' will receive a bonus benediction.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When Values and Wants Collide

Over the past while, as I've written on this blog of going from one crisis to another, someone has occasionally contacted me to offer help.

Each time, I've felt conflicted about accepting that offer.

Daphne and I began economicus ridiculous for the primary purpose1 of enlightening people about what life looks like when viewed from the bottom of the poverty well. Our purpose was never to gain sympathy or help for ourselves.

Through our work with WISE, we saw how effective the deeply personal could be in changing people's minds or waking them from apathy. The stark brutal facts of our stories and those of the other women of WISE angered readers to the point of moving some to action. While WISE folded in late 2006 due to lack of funding through Status of Women Canada (thank you, Stephen Harper), Daphne and I didn't fold. Our lives continued as they were, with one difference: our anger was deeper, stronger, and stoked a furious determination not to allow our voices to be silenced. We would continue advocating for change, but now on our own.

On this blog and in our other writings, Daphne and I press on in the same style. We continue to be as brutally honest with our readers, and with ourselves, as we were when we told our stories for the first time through WISE.

Yours truly does not always succeed. I'm the quintessential introvert and baring all leaves me feeling terribly vulnerable and usually shaking until the writing is many hours or days in the past. Still, I expose the deeply personal in order to slam home the message that living like this is brutal and nasty. My writing is always about getting that message out.

When readers respond with offers of help, I reflexively feel that my voice has been diminished or the larger point somehow missed. I know intellectually this hasn't happened with the women whose offers I did accept (and, make no mistake, I've been grateful for the items provided); but I can't help but be apprehensive of the danger of economicus ridiculous no longer being taken seriously because one or both of its writers occasionally gets help from a reader.

I don't know if I've explained this conflict well and fear unintentionally offending people I don't want to offend. But I've decided against accepting help in the future from people who know me only through my writing or online contact.

I understand how people could be moved by some of my recent posts to the point of wanting to help. But I would rather they took what I have written and used it as their impetus to help, perhaps in a similar way, someone they already know or a stranger who lives nearby2; and/or to advocate, or advocate more, for change in all the ways they can imagine.


1A secondary purpose behind the blog was to share tips on getting by on next to nothing.
2Always ask if help is wanted before giving it and what type of help is desired. Accept the response without judgement or argument. Many of the desperately poor have the most basic of wants, often unrelated to physical need. A cup of coffee and conversation, for example, could make someone's week, precisely because the coffee is a treat not a necessity, and the conversation validates their humanity. Regardless, you're not obliged, simply in the asking, to follow through and provide the requested item or service.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sometimes Good Things Happen 2

No, there's been nothing from SAFER. My application still sits at the SAFER office, not having been looked at yet, although it's been there for eight weeks.

But thanks to a kind Cowichan woman and her mother, last night, for the first time in awhile, I slept like a baby, warm and snuggly under lovely 'new' creamy soft pink sheets, that were topped by a high quality gorgeous quilt.

This photo doesn't do it justice (click over the pic for a larger view). That quilt is thick, beautifully made, and has an antique look to it, having a slight gold sheen in the background.

The bedding came complete with matching cushion and pillow sham. And the sham encased a super fat pillow! (All my pillows have been of the cheap, thin variety, with little to no cushiony comfort. I've two such pillows now; both happen to have navy pillowcases which exactly match the navy trim on my new bedding!)

The women also provided an extra pair of sheets, pillowcases and towels. I can't remember the last time I had a spare set of linen.

There were other goodies, among them several pairs of warm socks. And food, including homemade jam. The label on one jam jar reads "peach, lavender, raspberry." The description alone makes me salivate.

When I awoke this morning, I couldn't recall anything after turning off the light at 9:30 last night. Wanted to stay up reading in bed longer, because the extra back support from the cushion and fat pillow made that pastime less painful. But I couldn't keep my eyes open. I don't think I moved all night.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Stress of Living on the Edge Promotes Mental Illness

The more dire my financial situation becomes, the fewer choices I have, and the less room I've to manoeuvre, the more stress I feel. This has a direct affect on my brain's ability to maintain its own health.

The brain manages the best way it can. We present our brains with impossible situations, they create improbable and seemingly impossible ways of coping.

My brain has learned to cope with unbearable stress in a way that most people would consider unhealthy.

Since my rapid slide into the purported 'unemployable', which began late 2000, whenever my choices reduced to zero and the stress became so overwhelming my brain could no longer bear the pressure, I'd unintentionally and without conscious thought enter a dissociative state.

It happened for the first time in February 2001, when I was at home alone; another time when I was standing at the counter of the local mental health unit waiting to make an appointment. Twice it happened while I sat in a WAVAW counsellor's office, waiting for her to say something.

On each occasion, whether I was standing, sitting, talking, or walking, the motion slowly ceased until I became immobile, even my breathing having slowed. It was like my brain wound me down, shut off all sensory input and left only the basic organ and motor functions running, albeit more slowly.

The reality of my immovable body then matched the reality of my immovable situation.

In the times this has happened, it has been the one relieving state in which I've felt the pressures ease on my mind. It feels so damn good, so peaceful, so quiet; no sounds and no smells; there's nothing felt or tasted; nothing touches my skin. It's a place that's almost colourless and has the look of a whitish fog. All senses have been turned off and I am inside my own mind; nothing outside my inner world demands my attention, not even my own skin.

Because this state feels so good, it's difficult to break out of. It feels like a drug and there's a strong compulsion to fall deeper into it, as though the brain is trying to lure itself toward something. Unconsciousness perhaps?

While in that place, a lazy thought sometimes arises that if I give way to the temptation to stay, I could lose my mind permanently. I fuzzily wonder why I should care about losing my mind.

Psychologically speaking, my reaction to severe stress due to living financially on the edge makes sense. There are no more options, no other places to turn. One is in fact on a precipice. The only way left is to jump.

I don't want to jump, not anymore, not having finally turned 60 and become eligible - but still not approved - for some financial help.

But waiting for help and waiting for approval by some Other can be as damaging as getting no help at all.

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting...

Waiting is the biggest stressor* for me.

It hasn't helped that what I'm waiting for has meant my being unable to buy desperately needed things.

My remaining pants and jeans are falling off me, literally. As I walk to and from the grocery store, I'm having to keep hitching them up. When I go out, I look poor and that embarrasses me.

Recently, my fallen-apart comforter and last top sheet, plus the t-shirts I'd been wearing for nightwear had become so threadbare they were good for nothing but the dumpster. What bedding remains is a single fitted sheet to cover the mattress. I've been spending my nights trying to sleep with a single, light throw over me. It's no bigger than a bath towel.

The nights are getting colder; the heat hasn't been turned on yet. I'm so cold.

Then there's the reading glasses and the LCD/LED monitor that's needed to replace this ancient CRT one. The brightness levels of my monitor have so decayed that a person with good eyesight said everything looks blurry. Using this monitor has worsened my eyesight.

Why don't I get the things I need? What's the wait about?

I'm waiting for approval of my application to the BC government's Shelter Aid for Elderly Renters (SAFER), a rental subsidy program for low-income seniors.

The SAFER office received my application on July 19th.

In anticipation over the last two years of applying for SAFER when I turned 60, I'd calculated and apportioned my savings to last until I would begin receiving the subsidy. This meant living on no more than $700 per month.

In my calculations, I assumed the processing of SAFER applications would take up to six weeks. Nothing on the BC Housing website suggested otherwise.

Six weeks didn't seem like such a bad assumption. There was, after all, the customary advisement of "up to six weeks" that I'd been told or read whenever I'd dealt with federal or provincial government services in the past.

Silly me. I was going by experiences back in the days of yore. Back in the halcyon days prior to the BC election in 2001, before the large budget and public service cuts done by the Campbell government.

The middle of August came and went and I'd still had no word from SAFER, not even acknowledgement of receipt of my application. So I called their office using Skype and was told to expect to receive my first payment at the end of September. By that time SAFER would owe me three months' worth of payments, which would total approximately $1,000.

Panic set in, but I eventually coped. I began visiting the food bank more frequently and cutting even further on my 'discretionary' spending - to about $80 per month. By 'discretionary', I mean everything else other than rent, hydro and cable (internet only).

With three weeks having passed since I'd checked with SAFER, I called again on September 3rd. Now I was told that they were about "four weeks behind in processing" and were still working on the applications from the middle of June. Ergo, I should not expect to receive payment until "at least [the last working day of] October." I asked if 'at least' really meant 'not until the end of November'. The man restated "the end of October," without the qualifier.

So now I'm scared and I don't trust that I'll see a SAFER payment the end of October either.

All my best-laid plans - to make my savings last not just until the SAFER payments would begin, but to stretch them until I turned 65 and qualified for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement - look to have been for nought. With the punishingly low interest rates, (especially punishing for people dependent on their savings), my savings over the past while have been earning very little. In June, I did what I could and put most of my money into two non-redeemable term deposits. The rest, $2,700, went into a redeemable (after 90 days) term deposit; starting the 15th of this month, it's to be divvied out in 10 monthly payments of $270.

You do the math:

* CPP payment: $295.55
* Savings: $270.00
* Total monthly: $565.55

Rent just went up: $501. Shaw internet service just went up: $52.64.

Forget about hydro, food, monitors, reading glasses, warm bedding, sleep wear, pants that fit.

No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try to make things work, it never seems to be enough.

When you live so close to the edge, there's no room to accommodate government 'service delays'.

Thank you, Gordon Campbell, for approving all those cutbacks to BC's public service.

*On Saturday I bought more St. John's Wort. It's an expense I can ill afford; but I also cannot afford the toll this stress is taking on my body and my mind. I've been too ready to erupt lately. Kiltie and Brodie are affected by the tension. Time to do something about it.