Post navigation← Older posts My arrival in the DTES in Vancouver
Posted on January 23, 2012 by raisetherates
Today [January 17] I moved into the second phase of the Raise the Rates Welfare Challenge and will spend two weeks living in an SRO (single room occupancy) hotel in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES).
I got up early to say goodbye to my housemates in Surrey. There was no way that I would be able to carry all of my belongings to Vancouver, so I left a few items like my sleeping bag and clothes with one of my housemates.
It was below zero while I carried my life’s belongings to the sky train: food rations, bedding and some clothes. Once I reached Main Street, I was met by members of Raise the Rates and we walked to my SRO hotel on Jackson Street.
I was assured by Raise the Rates that I would not be displacing anyone. They had done a survey on the availability of SRO’s in the area and found that units in the $425 range were readily available. I was told that if I needed to rent an SRO in the $375 range (the shelter portion of welfare), I would either be out on the street, in a shelter (weather dependent) or displacing someone.
I entered the room with great curiosity. I had not seen the room before today.
The room was 11 x 11 ft. with a sink, fridge, stove and single mattress, all in obvious disrepair. I later discovered the fridge didn’t work, which was cause for great panic, as I had a few perishables and only $25 left for food for the next two weeks. Luckily, a neighbour with a working unit offered to help store my items. When I asked about the bathroom, I was told I’d share one toilet and shower with the 11 other men living on the same floor.
Later that day, I had the opportunity to meet with single mothers at a local school. They shared with me the difficult struggles and challenges they face in order to qualify for welfare. The issues they raised were very similar to the issues raised by the single mothers I had met in Surrey.
One of the mothers explained that because there are no earning exemptions for a single employable person on welfare, if a person wants to work, even part time, to try and get off of welfare, whatever amount they earn is deducted from their welfare cheque. This leaves them running around in circles with little chance of ever getting off welfare.
I was told of the skyrocketing housing costs that eat up an increasing portion of the monthly income for those with low incomes and on welfare. This is especially true if you have more than one child and need more than one room.
Another mother, who was well educated, but had been on disability welfare for the last three years, had a teenage son who was a cancer survivor with heart conditions and autism. Her son was living with his father at first and then decided he wanted to live with his mom. As a result of the move the mom started receiving child support from the father, which was clawed back according to the current welfare rules.
These are just a few of the many challenges single-parent families face while living on low incomes and on welfare.
While the DTES has become the face of poverty in B.C., there are over 500,000 people across the province living in poverty, and 120,000 of those are children, more than 11 percent of our total population.
The people who live in the DTES have their own stories to tell. I look to this experience as an opportunity to hear about the challenges and circumstances that brought them to the DTES and to life in an SRO.