‘I may end up homeless again’: Six Ontarians talk about their life before, after and, once again, without basic income

TheStar.com – Opinion/Readers’ Letters
Aug. 2, 2018.   

Close to 1,000 Hamiltonians are being left in the lurch after the new Progressive Conservative government announced it is scrapping a basic income pilot program less than one year after it launched.

The basic income pilot, which was being tested in three locations across the province, was providing 4,000 Ontarians with a guaranteed income of up to $17,000 a year for individuals and $24,000 a year for couples, less 50 per cent for income earned.

The Hamilton Spectator spoke to six people enrolled in the basic income program, which cost $50 million a year, and heard from several others about what the project meant to them.Here are their stories:

Lindsay Boyd, 53

Life before basic income: Boyd, who has been on a wait list for subsidized housing for 11 years, was worried about being able to keep her apartment after learning a housing allowance program she received was being phased out. She had been going to the food bank every month where she found herself eating processed food, which aggravated her bowel condition, ischemic colitis.

What has the pilot project meant for you? While trying to survive on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), Boyd said she got herself into a “huge pickle” with payday loans. After filing for bankruptcy twice, she filed a consumer proposal, toward which she has been paying $100 a month. The extra money has been helping pay for that. Boyd also used the additional funds to help out a friend, pay off her veterinarian bill, buy fresh fruits and vegetables and start to replace items in her apartment, like a new telephone and fan. For the first time in 15 years, she treated herself to summer clothes at Walmart — three tank tops for $9 — and was starting to put $50 a month into a savings account.

What’s next? Boyd said she will have to start heading back to the food banks, resort to using her savings and no longer help out her friend. She had been looking forward to painting one of her living room walls for the first time in 11 years and stashing money away toward a day trip this summer. “I was so excited for this money to give me the breathing room to actually do something,” she said. “And it’s all gone. It’s absolutely gone.”

Steve Pelland, 38

Life before basic income: “I was homeless and I was receiving social assistance, but it’s just not enough,” Pelland said. He would eat meals at the shelter. Without being able to afford a way to and from work, he found it a challenge to find a job. “It was pretty much a circle of not getting anywhere,” he said.

What has the pilot project meant for you? Starting to receive basic income meant Pelland started planning to go back to college to learn a trade. He hoped this would allow him to launch a career and “get off the system.” The extra money meant he’s been able to rent a room in a nice, clean home. He hoped to pay off tickets in order to get his driver’s licence back, which would help him look for work further afield.

What’s next? Pelland said he will no longer be able to go back to school. He plans to look for a minimum wage job, but even then, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to stay in his place. If he goes back to the shelter, he worries about finding work. Most of the jobs he sees require working night shifts, which would prove difficult since he would not be able to sleep at the shelter during the day. He said he likely will have to go back to receiving social assistance. “I had a plan. I was going to go back to college and get a trade so that I can better myself so that I can provide and help out in the community,” Pelland said. “Now I’m scared because I may end up homeless again.”

Dave Cherkewski, 46

Life before basic income: “Barely surviving was a full-time job,” he said, juggling between keeping his belly full and clothes on his back. Cherkewski had worked various contract jobs in the past, but having the extra income meant he didn’t have to worry about the stress of work if places were not able to accommodate his mental health disability. Having been on ODSP for 15 years, Cherkewski said he had figured out how to live by giving up a lot of luxuries. “Keep life simple and you can find happiness in the simple things,” he said.

What has the pilot project meant for you? Cherkewski hoped to spend three years creating a work co-op for people with disabilities by people with disabilities. The extra money more than doubled his disposable income after rent, meaning he could buy fruit smoothies he likes to drink and treat food as his medicine, he said. “I’ve been enjoying food,” Cherkewski said. “I’ve been getting things that I haven’t been able to afford previously.”

What’s next? “To lose my basic income, I’m losing my affordable housing,” Cherkewski said, noting a larger chunk of his money each month will go toward rent. Without the extra money, he also won’t be able to contribute to the local economy in the same way, he said.

Angel, 56

Life before basic income: Before enrolling in the basic income pilot program, Angel was working in the sex trade to supplement the money she received from ODSP. She found herself going to the food bank and running up credit card debt the odd time to make ends meet. “The (ODSP) cheque comes in, and it pays my rent and some of my bills,” she said. “I have no money for food and extra utilities or anything.”

What has the pilot project meant for you? The extra income has allowed Angel more time and money to work on her medical administration correspondence courses. It also meant she could transition out of sex work after having done the job off and on for about 40 years, start getting caught up on her bills and buy additional health insurance.

What’s next? “I’m going to have to go back to sex trade work,” she said.

Alana Baltzer, 29

Life before basic income: “A struggle to survive each day,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, a job’s the answer to the problems,’ but how can you find a job when you don’t have money to keep your phone on or to be able to do your laundry so you have clean clothing to wear to an interview or even buy interview-appropriate clothing?”

What has the pilot project meant for you? “It meant freedom from … having to report everything, to always be questioned and stigmatized for what my money got spent on from being on ODSP,” she said. For the first time in her life, Baltzer was able to buy a brand new winter coat. Her mental health has stabilized. And just the other day, she applied to college. Baltzer had also started looking for a part-time job to help with extra expenses.

What’s next? College is on hold until Baltzer finds full-time employment. She doesn’t want to have to go back on ODSP but acknowledges that may not be an option.

Adrienne Newport, 26

Life before basic income: “Before I was always stressed, always anxiety-stricken to the point that I’m throwing up because of the financial stressor of not having enough money to live, not having enough money to afford healthy groceries, not enough money to afford laundry, not enough money to do anything with basically,” she said. Newport said she had a bedbug infestation but couldn’t afford to buy new furniture while living on ODSP, so she had to rely on family and friends. “That just sent me into crisis.”

What has the pilot project meant for you? For Newport, receiving a basic income meant she was no longer stressed. More money meant she was able to afford additional food, laundry and save for summer activities like attending festivals. It also brought her cat Bruce — her “pride and joy” — into her life, which has helped with her loneliness and depression.

What’s next? Newport said she will have to go back to receiving ODSP, which she believes will worsen her anxiety and cause her stomach issues to start up again. Bruce has feline immunodeficiency virus and requires regular vet visits. “I don’t know how I’m going to afford it,” she said. “It’s going to be a huge adjustment.”

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/08/02/i-may-end-up-homeless-again-six-ontarians-talk-about-their-life-before-after-and-once-again-without-basic-income.html

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