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Sunday, January 29, 2012

MLA Welfare Challenge: Jagrup Brar blogs about living on $610 a month

MLA Welfare Challenge: Jagrup Brar blogs about living on $610 a month

January 24, 2012 –Day 24 of Welfare Challenge

I volunteered at the Carnegie Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) today.

Located at Main and Hastings, Carnegie is in the heart of the DTES. Over 400 volunteers contribute their time, talents and energy to the Carnegie each year.

Many people living in poverty come to Carnegie on a regular basis to volunteer in exchange for food. There is a sense of connection at Carnegie for the residents and homeless in the area.

When I arrived at Carnegie, I went to the kitchen to begin cutting up potatoes to feed hundreds of people that night. After volunteering my time, I was rewarded with a free, hot meal. It felt like quite an achievement for me.

After I completed my volunteer shift at Carnegie, I met with the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU), a short walk east of the Carnegie Centre.

For 12 years VANDU’s mission has been to provide user-based peer support and education to current or former drug users.

I met with a number of individuals at VANDU throughout the day, who shared their challenges with me.

Some members told me they used drugs to manage pain due to inadequate health coverage, while others used to escape their environment, seeking artificial happiness in the absence of the real thing. Some used to escape physical, physiological or sexual trauma.

Thank you to Laura, Hugh and Aiyanas for their valuable assistance in organizing this meeting.

Advocates and Food

Jan. 23, 2012 –Day 23 of Welfare Challenge

I met with the Front Line Advocacy Workers (FLAW) Project today.

The income disparity in the downtown core was evident in the walk to FLAW from along Hastings from Main to Burrard St.

FLAW is made up of a diverse group of individuals whose expertise ranges across tenants’ rights, immigration, legal education, family law, women services, health care and disability, homelessness and human rights.

At my meeting with FLAW advocacy workers I heard many stories that show how many people, but especially those with mental health issues or cognitive challenges have a hard time with the rules around welfare and other programs.

The claw back of child tax benefits was another issue raised and something I’ve heard a lot about over the course of the Welfare Challenge.

One advocacy worker told me that a 14-year-old boy came to live with his aunt. The aunt was refused welfare for the boy as he was not considered an eligible dependent, despite supporting him. Meanwhile, the federal government was trying to figure out if the aunt should be receiving the child tax benefits for the boy.

In the end it took six months for the government to agree to send the boy’s child tax benefit to the aunt in one lump sum. The province then deducted the child tax benefit amount from the aunt’s welfare cheque as income. The worker said that if a child tax benefit was paid on a regular monthly basis, it wouldn’t be considered income. However, if it is paid out as a lump sum it is considered income.

These stories highlight the important role of the advocates who assist some of our most vulnerable citizens without the means to protect themselves.

I would like to thank Alison Ward of Community Legal Assistance for organizing this very informative meeting with the front line advocacy workers.

In the evening I stood in line at Harbour Lights for a free meal. It was a long line of about 200 people. Volunteers would call people inside in small groups. After about forty minutes I was called in with some others and asked to sit in a waiting room.

There were around 4-5 rows of chairs put out for people to sit and wait. When our turn came, we were asked to go to the dining room where volunteers handed us each a tray of food. As I have said, I chose not to take free food for the first part of the challenge so after 23 days without eating meat, it seemed as if I had hit the jackpot! I could not believe my eyes and my mouth started to water I quickly went to the nearest vacant chair and sat down to eat. The smell, the sight, and the taste….it was such a delicious experience.

During my time at Harbour Lights I had the opportunity to meet many people and hear of their challenges. The majority of people I met with were also from SRO’s. Due to a lack of money and cooking facilities, they come here every day. In order to eat two meals a day, I was told by many that much of their day is spent standing in food lines.

Constituents Day

Jan. 20, 2012 – Day 20 of Welfare Challenge

I had meetings today with constituents at my office.

By the time I came back to my room in Vancouver I was extremely tired and struggled to make noodles for supper. I am getting sick of eating noodles. But, what can I do? They’re so cheap!

I find myself getting tired quite early in the day and hungry all the time. Part of this is that I made the choice not to accept the free food that is available through the food bank and other services during the first weeks of this challenge. People who recognize me on the street are kind enough to let me know where the free food lines are. I will use them in the coming days.

You may have noticed I am behind on my blogs. In this month of my life which is so out of the ordinary for me, I find that by the end of the day I am so exhausted and hungry that I have very little energy.

When I feel low energy, I think about all the people who live this life day in and day out. They will still be here when I go back to my life in Surrey. But I will not forget their stories, their smiles, and their encouragement that keeps me motivated to finish the rest of the MLA Welfare Challenge.

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