I am writing to express concern with regards to rules, regulations, and acts of the Ministry of Social Development.
I am disgusted with a system of government that allows for little rhyme or reason, and the black-and-white thinking of bureaucrats who offer nothing but a vague explanation of their choice of action.
We are the people, the citizens they are mandated to assist, to help, to direct, guide, protect, and care for.
When an employee of the ministry makes a decision, it has consequences for the client.
The hypocrisy of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing is amplified by the antiquated processes and procedures required to achieve a fundamental goal, like payment for housing.
The part that worries me most is that no two employees have the same answer to the same question, not to mention that the math formula used to determine the amount payable to ensure an individual British Columbian’s well-being is years behind the times, i.e. shelter portion $375 per month. What kind of place do you think you can get for that? What do you eat when most of it is rent?
Let me walk you through the insanity of one scenario I am now facing. Please bear in mind I am not slamming the “worker” so much as workers’ guidelines.
In January 2012, due to financial hardships, lack of employment, and disability, I became homeless. When I finally accepted that I needed help was when I began to see why so many are now homeless.
I applied for disability. This is where the first sign of failure begins.
I had a work-related injury; I’ve worked most of my life. In May 2007, life changed. After five surgeries on my knees, and due to my young age at the time of the injury, 45, I did not qualify for a full knee replacement (56 is the magic number).
The process, and I’m sure the people who put this one together were sniffin’ glue, is that, regardless of your situation, you must first apply for income assistance.
You must also have no assets whatsoever.
Okay, I worked most of my life, so I had assets: tools, TV, stereo, car, furniture, etc.
Well, I had too much. Okay, but I’m not asking for income assistance, I’m asking for disability, because I’m disabled. No money allowed in the bank, no RRSPs, etc.
Well, that was humiliating. I asked for help, and the answer was, “No, come back when nothing’s left.”
I suffered for five months, liquidated everything, couch-surfed, and slept in my truck with my dog.
Sometimes I would let another homeless person sleep in the truck, too. It rains constantly in winter, as we all know, and you can’t help but want to help.
As long as I could work, I wasn’t going to a shelter or eating at a shelter. No matter what, there’s always someone else worse off.
To support my new life at minimum wage, I worked seven days a week. Food, gas, insurance, repairs, laundromats, restaurants, showers at the leisure centre: all cost a lot of money.
What came in, went out.
I also wear a brace provided by WCB. Unfortunately, it’s like a huge neon sign that scares employers about the cost of WCB claims. The knee also doesn’t always want to cooperate, so some weeks I fell short of seven days, due to pain.
Our Medicare doesn’t cover much, either, I found out. WCB was paying at first, now they don’t.
Well, even the strongest would feel depressed, and despair sets in. The look I saw on homeless people was my face now.
I finally accepted humiliation and made another attempt at getting help.
It came this time in a week. I was homeless.
The Persons With Disabilities package took many visits to the doctor, and a community advocate had to cross-check everything, because they like to “deny.” At the ministry, one word out of place, one box unticked, and the eight weeks you waited for an answer is wasted, because you have to go through it again.
So doctor, advocate, processing by the ministry. To date, that’s well over 14 weeks, and no answer yet.
Now I’m living on $610 a month, plus I have some issues, so I get a supplement of $40 a month. That’s $650 a month.
I finally got a break after applying for low-income housing, because I’m homeless and because I actually want to move forward. I was granted a suite in a housing complex. After months of homelessness, I had a place. Wow!
Sorry, no pets. I made arrangements with friends for my dog. It took about two months for the application, interview, funding, acceptance to the program, and moving in.
Now comes the moment when you feel it was all for nothing.
I moved in Aug. 17, handed in my PWD to the ministry the same day. The pickup packed it in the next week, so no transportation… can’t afford it anyway. I use a bike now (borrowed) till I can get another.
I really watch my dollars, so I ate at the shelter from time to time. The food bank is a great help. Now, I can cook food, because I have a place, shower, laundry, etc.
It was a long way down to this from September of last year.
Cheque issue was Aug. 29, I had two expected expenses. One was rent, the other was storage for the last of my lifetime of belongings: books, pictures of kids, tools, clothes, bedding, etc. I sold everything else.
It was going to work out fine, but a little lean, since the cheque covered nothing extra.
With the shelter and the food bank, I was doing better than before.
On Aug. 30 I got a call. It was my dog: the little growth he had on his side a month ago had exploded into a huge lump, and he’s so uncomfortable, he’s ripped it to shreds.
I hope it’s only going to be a surgery.
I dial like a madman and find a vet who will do it on payments… well, yes and no.
If I was a regular client, sure, no problem. Not the case, however, so we make some calls. The vet assistant finally gets a little funding from a pet owners’ association.
Anyway, I’m broke. Rent and storage – nothing left.
“We need money from you to operate, or put the dog down.”
Twelve-year-old male, neutered, short, best buddy. Had his mom, before him. He was first born of her only litter. Quiet. Friendly. Never been sick or injured like this before.
I decide to seek other options.
Now, I’m threatened with SPCA and surrendering – that means “put down.”
The growth is normal, it happens a lot. But now it’s money for an operation or kill my bestfriend.
I gave them what I had. The rent. Goonie’s doing great. He’s getting staples out on Saturday.
I’m not doing great. I got an eviction notice.
I’m denied extra money because I didn’t call for permission. Goonie didn’t have the time. They were okay with killing him.
We are not done yet. I saved the best example of glue-sniffin’ insanity I have ever come across.
Once your request is denied, you file a reconsideration package. They take a few days to prepare. You have 20 days to respond. They have 20 days to answer. If you don’t like the answer to the reconsideration, you have seven days to file an appeal. Once the appeal is filed (whether you win or lose, you can request a supplement, in this case for the rent money) and as long as you sign a promise to pay, you get the funds.
Do you think I have 49 days to wait?
Could I skip these steps and sign the promise now and end this madness? Of course not. That would make sense.
The homeless in Maple Ridge have all fallen through the cracks in a system that no longer functions with our fast-paced society.
I’m now at the Alouette Home Start Society on a six-month plan to upgrade my safety and first aid tickets, to source funding, grants, loans, and bursaries to start a business and find work as a disabled worker.
Everyone here has a plan to move forward. We need more places like this in B.C.
Glenn Kirby, Maple Ridge