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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Jagrup’s blog

Jagrup’s blog – My house mates

The house I live in is a decent middle class house in a decent middle class neighbourhood. I chose this house partly to make the point that poverty lives everywhere – that poverty is not limited to one part of any city in British Columbia. I share the house with eight people.
One of them is Donna, a single mother who worked as a full-time medical office assistant for seven years. Due to the tough economy, Donna’s work hours were cut back and she was eventually laid off. Because employment insurance calculations are based on approximately the previous eight months of work, and Donna’s hours had been cut back so much prior to being laid off, Donna discovered she wouldn’t get as much as she needed or for as long as she expected. So Donna ended up on welfare. This shared house is the only home she can afford.
Another person who lives with me is Curtis. Curtis used to be on welfare, but has now found a job with a moving company. He lives here because it is the only accommodations he can find, and afford, that allows him to keep his dog.
Another housemate is Cal, a retired psychiatrist who used to work at Riverview. Cal lives on his pension. I was surprised to learn that he ran provincially as a Liberal candidate in Abbotsford in 1991 and only lost the election by 134 votes.
I also live with a person who had a good paying union job, but got hurt in the workplace and ended up on income assistance. There are others who I haven’t met yet, and I look forward to hearing their stories too.
For me this house is a symbol defining poverty in British Columbia; poverty lives everywhere, and affects people from all walks of life.

Jagrup’s blog – Shopping for food

In addition to my housing search today [January 4], I had an interesting experience shopping for food for the first time on my limited income. I gave myself a budget of $30 to spend on food for the week.
When I walked into the store I felt so relieved to finally be able to purchase some food of my choice. The fruits and vegetables looked so nice and sweet, and the fragrance they gave made my mouth water. As I took in all of the colours and smells, I began to shop.
I automatically focused on the prices listed for the different foods, rather than the food choices themselves. I thought of my wife, Rajwant, and wished she could help me get out of this one! When you are on a limited income, the price rather than the quality of the food becomes the deciding factor.
I bought 3 apples, 3 bananas, 5 green onions, 5 carrots, 1 onion, 1 cabbage, 5 packages of Maggie noodles, 3 packages of Side Kicks noodles, a small box of whole grain cereal, a loaf of bread, some tofu, 1 kilo of frozen veggies, milk, and a small jar of peanut butter. I hope this will last me a week. Only time will tell.
Back at my room, as I was putting the groceries away I poured myself some milk. “This is going to taste good,” I thought. I took a big sip and realized immediately that it was bad. I hadn’t checked the expiry date, and discovered it expired tomorrow, Jan. 5. Another lesson learned: always check expiry dates!
I realize that when one is living in poverty or on a limited income, every purchase you make is a necessity. If you lose anything you have to replace it. Tomorrow, I will have to walk another half hour to have the milk replaced.

Jagrup’s blog – Looking for a place to live

Today [January 4], I experienced first-hand how difficult it is for a person living on income assistance to find a place to stay.
I walked half an hour in the pouring rain to reach Hyland House – a non-profit organization that helps low income people find accommodations. The staff member who helped me, Tammy, provided me with a list of rooms to rent and a ride to go see the places.
The list contained 15 rooms and Tammy asked me to call and set up appointments to see some of them. I called every number on the list and was able to set up only three appointments.
The first house that I saw had four small dirty rooms. The carpet looked as if it had never been vacuumed and the railings were missing from the steps going upstairs. There was one tiny, grimy bathroom, which was to be shared by all four tenants. The rent was $425 and up.
The next house was a scary looking, dirty older house with four rooms. The room that was available was small, with a single bed, a very small table and a fridge. The windows had bars over them and the tenants in two of the other rooms were out and their doors had big pad locks on them. Clearly, safety was a concern in this house. The rent was $450.
Around the side of this same house, the landlord showed me another room. It was about three feet by seven feet, with no windows. When he opened the door I was stunned. Who could live in a room that small? I could only take two steps into the room and I was standing directly in front of the twin bed. The bed fit in the room like a glove, wedged in from wall to wall. I thought to myself that it would be worse than staying in a jail cell.
When the landlord told me the room was already rented for $300 to a man due to be released from the hospital following surgery, I was unable to control my tears, and tried to hide them from the landlord and Tammy. I could not even begin to comprehend what kind of challenges await the tenant when he comes to this room. No one should be living in conditions like this.
The next house we went to see was in a nice, small, clean house. They were renting a fairly nice-sized room on the main floor of their family home that included a TV and Internet connection. There was a bathroom for the tenant right outside the bedroom door, and access to share the kitchen with the family. But the rent was $500 – much more than the $375 housing allowance income assistance provides.
The place I moved into rents for $375, and I share it with seven other people. There is just no way to find a private stand-alone unit for less than $500. Shared accommodations and/or rooming houses are the only choice for people on income assistance. While I was lucky to secure a decent, clean room, my experience today looking at the other options out there shows not everyone is so fortunate.

News release – MLA displays food and housing that people on welfare can afford

Today Jagrup Brar, MLA Surrey Fleetwood, showed off the kind of food and housing that a person living on the welfare rate of $610 a month can afford.  Brar has accepted the challenge from Raise the Rates to live on the welfare rate of $610 a month for a single person.
“Yesterday I went shopping and bought this food. I have less than $4 a day to spend on food for the month. However on my first shopping I spent $32.87, which is more than I can afford, and hope that will last week.” Brar told a news conference at his newly rented shared house in Surrey today.  Brar displayed his shopping:
  • 3 x 143 gms packs of sidekicks noodles pasta,
  • 500 gms of peanut butter,
  • 350 gms of Tofu,
  • 410 gms of wholegrain cereal,
  • 3 apples & 3 bananas,
  • 5 packages of Maggie noodles 90 gms,
  • 5 large carrots &3 tomatoes,
  • 5 green onions,
  • 1 onion & 1 green cabbage,
  • 1 kilo of frozen peas & carrots,
  • 1 loaf wholewheat bread 570 gm,
  • 2 litres skim milk
“I looked all over for a place to rent and this was about the best value.” said Brar. “I have one room, about 200 square feet, with two small windows, but this is like a 5 star hotel as compared to the others that I saw, it even has a mini fridge and tv. However, I have to share the washroom and kitchen facilities with several other people. Imagine if this was your home for a long time. People on welfare have to share spaces with strangers,” Brar pointed out, because that’s all they can afford.
“Welfare rates should be high enough that people can rent self-contained apartments,” said Jean Swanson, Raise the Rates. “Most importantly we need a government housing strategy to build a supply of good housing for people on low income. All over the province there is a shortage of affordable housing.”
“People need enough money to be able to afford a healthy diet. Although Brar has spent about one week of his welfare money, he doesn’t have one weeks worth of food here and will probably run out and get hungry.  This is no way to ensure that someone can stay healthy and well-groomed so they can look for work effectively. In the long run this also increases health costs as people who are poor suffer bad health.” explained Jean Swanson of Raise the Rates.
Colleen McGuire, Registered Dietitian of At the Table Nutrition Inc. explained that, “According to Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, a man Brar’s age needs a minimum of 7 servings of vegetables and fruits, 7 servings of grains, 3 servings of milk and alternatives, and 3 servings of meat and alternatives per day and some healthy fats. I commend Brar for making good food purchase choices, with foods from each of the four food groups.”
“However, if he consumes all he needs each day for a healthy diet, he will run out of most food groups within 3 – 4 days and will be hungry. The 2009 Cost of Eating in BC report states that Brar would require at least $65 per week for a healthy food basket based on the food guide. It is not possible with $25 – 30 per week for food to meet the food guide recommendations and purchase the healthy food basket and Brar has already spent over that amount for the week”, she said.
Background & References
Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide:
Cost of Eating in BC:
Jagrup's spending tracking sheet.

Jagrup’s blog – Apply for ‘Welfare’ day and already hungry

Today is my third day on the welfare challenge.
I got up early in the morning and I was hungry. I desperately wanted to have a cup of tea and a hot breakfast to go with it. But, I had no money.
I got ready quickly and had to walk over an hour to eat a free meal at the Surrey Urban Mission. When one is homeless, you wake up looking for food and you go to sleep looking for food.
Today, I had an interview with a worker from the Ministry of Social Development to learn about the process of applying for welfare.
There is a myth out there that applying for welfare is as easy as pulling up to a drive thru window for a meal, but I learned that the opposite is true. The application process was very complex and long. It could take up to four hours to complete the application. I also found that one must be well educated with good math skills to do it him/herself.
I stood in line with other income assistance recipients in front of a welfare office in the pouring rain. I got to speak with many people and hear their stories. The majority of them are there due to a loss of job or the troubled economy, and need help getting back on their feet.
At the end of the day, I got my $610 for the month. However, the following deductions were made before I physically got any money: $400 for rent; $20 deposit which IA claws back every month until the deposit money is paid back to them because they pay the deposit for you; $15 deducted for the two days of January which had passed by before I got the money; $42 for bus tickets; and $25 for a basic phone. I was left with $108, which is less than $4 per day.
My biggest challenge during the month will be to survive on $108. I know very well that with this amount I can afford to buy food only for survival; not necessarily healthy food or enough food for a man of my age and size.
It took me more than an hour to walk back from the Surrey Urban Mission to my room in the pouring rain in the darkness. I was wet and very cold, and I was hungry. After three days with no money, I finally had the option of buying food, so I grabbed a sub sandwich from a nearby shop and took it back to my room to eat before falling asleep after a very tiring day.
Jagrup explains his welfare budget.

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