Common threads in stories about being poor

By Scott Dunn, Sun Times, Owen Sound

Darryle Latendresse

Darryle Latendress

Diners at the Owen Sound Hunger and Relief Effort soup kitchen one night recently discussed what life is like being poor.

Ivan Farrow moved back to Owen Sound a few years ago from Orillia after 19 years. He lives with his parents, which he said he finds is safer than living on his own. He said he’s 27 and has attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“I can sum it up just to say it sucks. It literally sucks. It could be worse. Each person thinks of different scenarios about poverty. Some like it. Some just want to crawl into a cave and die there.”

* * *

Cindy Sumpton, Owen Sound.

Hydro bills are her biggest concern now.

“Disability doesn’t provide as much money as the rent and the hydro and all your bills come to, and then have money for food after. They don’t give you enough. Like just the basics is what they give you, like rent, food, for your dentist or health care, you know to get your medication. They don’t give you a whole lot.

“They should give people more money on their income to help out with other things instead of leaving them broke from month to month to month, and having to come to a place like this or the food bank or Safe ‘n Sound, you know to get help for food.”

* * *

Darryl Latendresse, 21, Owen Sound.

He figures he makes $1,100 or $1,200 per month. He would like to make $1,600. Paying hydro bills and eating three square meals a day is tough for him, he said. He comes to the soup kitchen about three times a week.

“People on welfare, they’re able to work and they want to get on Ontario Disability Support Program because basically they’re lazy, right? I myself could easily get on ODSP . . . I actually work . . .

“In Toronto, some people will just go and they’re not even poor, they’ll sleep on the streets and people will give them so much money. Like there’ll be a homeless guy and he’s actually rich. I’ve heard about stuff like that in Toronto.”

* * *

Neil Towers, 63, Owen Sound.

He said he was a real estate appraiser but health problems led to job loss, then Ontario Works, then ODSP. He’s also a guitar player and says there are a lot of fellow impoverished musicians.

“I was used to a reasonable income. I drove a decent car and all that, and then I had some health problems which led to this. Just not enough money going around. I lived for a year on welfare and I was living out at Stonetree. The rent was my entire cheque . . . .”

“That’s how it affected me and I’m sure a lot of other people. They develop health problems, some mental health problems perhaps. Mine was a heart attack and diabetes and a whole combination of things . . . I’d been gainfully employed all my life since I was 14 and all of a sudden I couldn’t get a job. I couldn’t buy a job.”

“The hardest part is the stigma I think — that people and as a result you — (think you) have it yourself. You know, that oh, I’m a loser because I can’t earn a living anymore. And I think a lot of people must go through that when old age starts getting up on them. Their limited income. Their income goes way down if they haven’t planned for their retirement, which I’ve never done. I lived a day at a time, a week at a time. Never thinking I’d get old and need a retirement fund . . .”

“The only reason I can have a car, drive a car is because I don’t smoke, I don’t drink beer and I don’t do drugs. Sorry, but a lot of people that are in this situation do all those things . . . And this place (soup kitchen) helps out because then you don’t have to buy as many groceries.

“The best part of it is all the musicians I’ve met. There’s a lot of good players . . . Sometimes we just get together on the street and a bunch of us will play and it’s magic.”

* * *

Anthony Miller, Owen Sound.

His ODSP benefits are being clawed back by $98 per month because he inherited $30,000 from his father’s estate. He went off benefits, took 30 months to spend the windfall, returned to ODSP but said he can’t show receipts for where the money went. ODSP generally allows $6,000 inheritance before recalculating benefits based on the extra income.

“That’s $98 in groceries I could buy. When I had that inheritance there, I had a lot of money, $30,000 right? And I thought oh a lot of money, you know, oh my God. And I found out one thing, that money talks. Right? That if you have money, you can pretty much get anything. People will help you, people will do anything for you. Why aren’t people acting the same way when you’re poor?

“Why aren’t people that are well off saying, OK, here’s a guy that’s trying, that doesn’t have much, nice guy, you know? Why aren’t the rich helping the poor out? They don’t know what it’s like to live day-to-day and month-to-month and live in poverty, you know? With their very rich cars and their big houses.

“I’ve met a lot of friends that are in poverty. And I find that people in poverty, most of them, they’re the ones that help each other. Like if somebody poor had a $10 bill and you hadn’t eaten in a week . . . I find that the poor people will give you $8 of that $10, well here, go get a sandwich or go get something to eat. Whereas rich people frown on you and think, oh what a bum. Why doesn’t he get a job? Some people can’t work.

“If they even had some sort of jobs for people that are on ODSP, like to make an extra $300, $400 . . . I’m sure there’s offices, buildings all over Owen Sound here that I’m sure would just love to hire somebody on ODSP that is able to do the work. To cut their lawn or clip their flowers. You know what I mean? Make a few extra dollars. But every time you try to work, ODSP takes 50% of your wages (above $200 earned income), so you’re not getting any farther ahead anyway.”

* * *

Beatrice Mann, Owen Sound.

She’s been on ODSP for about seven years. She said she didn’t eat anything over the prior weekend because there was no place to go for a free meal. She next ate the following Monday night at the soup kitchen.

“You plan when you’re going to eat and when you’re not going to eat . . . . (I) pay way to much rent, $750 plus hydro. Went without heat two days in this place that I’m in now but I went a week in my previous apartment . . . .

“I think about it (financial situation) way too much. But what keeps me going is my daughters and my granddaughter. Right? I know I have to get up every morning and brush the dust off and get myself dressed and look happy and whatever, for my granddaughter, ’cause I don’t want her to seeing her nania looking sad or upset all the time, right? Yeah, she’s my world.”

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