In Response to Kristin Annable’s article about CERB and Homelessneness in Canada:

While scrolling through my FB news feed the other day, I came across this article shared, and negatively criticized, by one of my partners. This article with the headline: Unintended consequences as homeless collect emergency benefit, anti-poverty advocates warn, as well as this person’s comment on it, pulled me in. 

Upon reading the article, I became a bit, shall we say… enraged. There are so many problems with this article. But chief among them is the fact that the writer spends very little of it, pointing to the actual issue here. It become clear to me, very quickly, that fucking Kristin *said like Karen or Becky*, clearly does not get it!

The problem is not that homeless people are applying for a benefit they are not entitled to! The problem is, that they are not entitled to it in the first place!!!

Why didn’t you start there, Kristin?! 

The fucking judge-ie-ness and holier-than-thou attitude about addiction and mental health issues is absolutely disgusting to me! What makes you think the rest of us people on the CERB, who do have homes, aren’t spending a good portion of our much needed benefit money, on drugs and alcohol, to self-soothe, and get us through this challenging time, Kristen?! 

I’m willing to bet that she herself is making frequent trips to the LCBO, Wine Rack, Beer Store or Marijuana dispensary, with her pay check from the CBC, which is still technically government / taxpayer money, if you think about it. Get off your high horse, Kristin! Your article is a piece of shit! I spit on it. 

Oops, did I say all of that out loud?!? Sorry, sometimes I lose my head when I get triggered. Back to the point… 

How are Manitoba’s homeless people not counted among their most vulnerable populations? And why the hell are they not entitled to additional financial aid in this time of crisis? Here in Toronto, I’m told that many of our city’s homeless people have been sheltered in hotel rooms during this crisis. That’s great news of course. But, why the hell weren’t we doing this before COVID-19?

These people are not just a bunch of lazy, low-life’s looking for an easy hand out! These people are all dealing with very serious addiction and mental health issues. Nobody in their right mind would ever choose to live on the street, unless they saw it was their only viable option in the shit-fucking-sandwich shop of their life. 

These people need help. They need a clean and safe place to live while they work on getting sober, if that’s what they choose to do. A lot of them need access to regular medical care, some in a way that our elderly people in assisted living, who can’t take care of themselves anymore do. 

They need access to social programs, rehabilitation, education and training. They need to be given something to do, that they don’t hate, that has them feel needed, and valued by a society that has turned its back on them. And in the meantime, they need their drugs and alcohol they are addicted to, in order to get them through this. 

According to a paramedic friend of mine, the symptoms of withdrawal from drug and alcohol addition can be worse than the symptoms of COVID-19. You can’t just cut these people off from their drugs cold-turkey. And that’s what they are facing in a situation where the borders are closed to non-essential travel. It’s even harder for their suppliers to get things into the country because these drugs are illegal. 

Can you imagine how stressful that must be? These people are addicted, they feel like they are going to die if they don’t get their next fix, and some of them just might actually die if they don’t get it. They cannot go off their drugs safely without medical supervision. And they certainly won’t stay off them unless they choose to for themselves, and have a strong support system in place to help empower them to make the right choices. 

Yes, they might die from a drug overdose, due to all those “extra drugs on the street” you speak of, and yes that is tragic. A terrible waste of human life. But, at this point in their lives, perhaps they have it like: they are gonna die of an overdose, or they are gonna die with withdrawal symptoms, or they are gonna die of COVID-19. Many of them are choosing the risk of overdose, and I can’t say I blame them for it, given everything they must be dealing with in their lives, to have them make that choice. 

So why do we have to treat them like criminals, if they are not in jail for any crime? Why shouldn’t they get a check to help them buy a new tent and a bottle of booze to take the edge off the already stressful situation that is their entire life, even before COVID-19 hit. They are struggling a lot worse than you or I, and if that’s gonna get them through the day a little easier. Is that really such a crime? 

Think about the economics of living on the street and being poor. A lot of these people probably normally afford their drugs and alcohol with panhandling. But there’s nobody going into the offices on Bay Street in Toronto, with plenty of loose change in their pocket, right now. 

Some of our city’s poor would normally collect cans and bottles to take them in for the deposit. A job like any other, and a public service, as far as I’m concerned. I usually leave mine in a grocery bag at the top of my drive for easy collection of anyone in need. But now the Beer Stores aren’t accepting empties due to COVID-19, so that source of income is cut off too. 

Kristin, then goes on to explain that Rick Lees, executive director of the Main Street Project says, they don’t condone homeless people applying for the benefit they are not entitled to because “they just see it as easy money,” and “there are other means by which people should access social supports.” Ok, let’s break that down…. 

What exactly is Rick Lees talking about? These other social supports they have access to… He must be talking about the provincial welfare system. And in that case, I can tell you a thing or two about that, from my own personal experience. I have been on social assistance a couple of times now. It’s nowhere near enough money to support a person, especially anyone living in any major urban centre. 

When I was most recently on Ontario Works over the winter months this year, I was receiving a maximum of $733 per month. That’s the maximum amount that a poor person can get in Ontario, when on social assistance. It can be slightly more if your utilities are not included in your rent. 

Now consider that homeless people don’t get all of that, because around 3 to 400 dollars of that amount is allocated towards your cost of rent. And because they don’t pay rent, they don’t get that part of the money. So what do they get? Maybe somewhere around $300 and change per month. Per MONTH! To cover all of their costs of living, food, shelter (tent or otherwise), etc. 

How could anyone ever climb out of the deep dark addiction hole they are in, or feel anything but despair, with so little an amount of financial support monthly? The truth is that they have to supplement that income with whatever they can get. And sometimes that means dealing drugs, panhandling, returning empties, stealing, etc. 

For those on social assistance who are not on the street, and who are self-employed like I am, this means taking gig work as much as possible. Sometimes I dog sit, sometimes I babysit, sometime I clean people’s houses. I do whatever I can to earn extra cash, when things are not busy in the film and television industry, during the winter months. 

But when I do make some money on the side, I report that income to my caseworker. And after around $200, any amount over that, about half of that money I made gets deducted from the amount that I collect in social assistance at the end of the month. 

So no matter how hard I’ve tried, I inevitably go into debt on my credit card whenever I am on social assistance. It’s the only way I can afford to cover all of my monthly expenses. Until I can get work again in the spring. 

Once I get working again, I immediately start paying down my debt until my credit card is completely paid off. But my personal expenses are usually quite high during these times when I’m working.

I’m working crazy hours in the film industry, sometimes 18 hour days, and so I don’t have time to go grocery shopping, and make myself food. I also don’t have the energy to bike or transit home at the end of these longer days. It’s often very late a night, and I end up taking an uber. 

This all makes it very hard for me to put enough money away during my working months, to cover me over the winter, so that I don’t have to go on social assistance anymore. I barely get myself out of my last credit card debt, before I’m back to unemployment again at the end of the season, and the cycle continues. 

Recently I finally got myself into IATSE 411 as a union PA, and I was going to finally start to work my way up in the union. Eventually I would finally get paid better, have more of my expenses covered by the production, get overtime pay, and even health benefits too. Then COVID-19 happened, and that’s all on hold. 

Others not in my industry, are going through their own problems. They might be different from mine, but they are still issues that are preventing them from being able to support themselves. Or preventing them from supplementing their social assistance as they normally would. Homeless people are no different, and in fact they have it even worse than I do! 

I am very lucky that I was eligible for the CERB myself. If I hadn’t been eligible, I would have had to stay on Ontario Works Social Assistance at only $733 per month. And the only increase to that amount during this crisis – is a ridiculous additional $100 per month. So I would have been getting a max of $833 per month in total. 

They would not have increased my assistance, any more than that $100 monthly, no matter what. Even though I lost my new roommate due to COVID-19. And even though, I now have to cover my total rent of my two bedroom apartment by myself, which is about $1300 per month. And even though, I am continuing to struggle to find a new roommate, because of COVID-19. This number would not increase any more. 

Others will be going through similar issues to me right now. All of the airbnb people have started turning their units into long term rentals during this crisis, and flooded the market. This is making it really hard to find someone to rent my room, through any of my usual sources. This has made an already tough time for rentals, when people are staying put where they are as much as possible, even harder. 

If I had been forced to stay on Ontario Works, due to being ineligible for CERB, my assistance would barely cover half of my rent, let alone food and other essentials. That doesn’t work! And, $1300 a month is not even that much money these days. There are folks paying that much or more for bachelor apartments, or a room in a shared house, at the moment. What would they do in that situation? 

But I’m lucky, I qualified for CERB, because I had income amounts of $5000 or more from my self-employment, during the last production season I worked. And, because I had just signed a contract to start working on a new TV show, before I got COVID-19, and had to self isolate until I recovered. And then, because the production industry completely shut down due to COVID-19, I couldn’t get back to work even once I had recovered from my illness. Only because of all of that, I was just barely eligible for CERB, based on their guidelines. 

If I hadn’t made that much money this year, say because I was going through a major depression. Like I was the first time I had to go on Ontario Works assistance, and was unable to work during that time. Well then, I would not have made enough money in 2019 to qualify me for CERB. I’m sure there are plenty of people in that situation. 

And if I hadn’t gotten that new contract yet, and wasn’t about to start working on that new show, before I got sick and things shut down. Well then, I still wouldn’t qualify for the benefit. Because technically, I would have already been unemployed before COVID-19 hit, not forced into unemployment by COVID-19. 

And to be honest, it’s still a little unclear that my production contract would even count under their guidelines, because technically I hadn’t had a day of work yet, before things shut down. I will argue that it still counts, if and when I get audited, but it’s a little grey in the rules, to be honest. 

Kristin, then goes on to say that Harold Dyck, the co-coordinator of the Low Income Intermediary Project says “don’t apply for the benefit if you are ineligible” and that “Canada Revenue Agency can claw back other federal benefits if a person is found to be ineligible for the CERB”. 

What is going on here?! Why are all her sources for comment in this news story, a bunch of miserable old white men, probably getting paid with taxpayer money themselves, to do their jobs in assisting the poor… And why do they all seem to be trying to make poor people feel worse than they already do? And why are they discouraging them from applying for benefits that they cannot possibly get by without? 

Yeah sure, maybe they are technically ineligible for the benefit, based on the very narrow, fucking last minute, thrown together guidelines of the CERB. But that’s surely gonna get fixed, soon enough. On the regular J.T. has been getting up there on his front steps, telling us all about the new changes to the CERB program, to make it work for more people they didn’t realize were not taken care of when they threw this thing together in a rush panic. 

I mean say what you will about the guy, but he’s just not that big of dick. When he finds out that certain people have been left out, and are falling through the cracks. When he finds out they really need the support and aren’t getting it, he changes the rules so they don’t have to worry about it.

I say it’s only a matter of time before they announce that all these people are forgiven for applying for the benefit that’s feeding and sheltering them during this craziness. 

People are going to do what they have to do to make ends meet and get by. If there is more money available and easily accessible to them, in a time like this, they’re gonna take it. They have to take it. Otherwise you’re going to start seeing a lot more homelessness, a lot more addicts taking up hospital beds in withdrawal, and people starving, or stealing what they need to eat. 

The government gets this, that’s why they made this money so easily available to people. Why don’t you get it Rick, Harold and Kristin? Are you cruel? Or just slow?

When I applied for and received my CERB benefit, I immediately called Ontario Works to let them know, and to report the income. Which was challenging to do, because I tried to contact my caseworker, but the office has been closed since March 18th. I even called social services at Metro Hall, to sort out paying back my over-payment balance, that was leftover from when I was getting Ontario Works. 

They told me that they couldn’t take my money right now, even if I begged them to. They don’t have time for that right now. They are not set up for it. They are too busy trying to wrangle five times as many people as they normally did before most of the offices shut down around the city, and diverted their cases to the main office at Metro Hall. They are not worried about getting their money back right now Kristin, so just chill. 

Poor people, my friends and peers, don’t listen to Kristin. Keep the money, put some of it away to pay your taxes next year if you can… But mostly, just make sure you take good care of yourself as much as possible. Eat some good healthy food. Make sure you have a safe place to live, and social distance properly. Seek medical attention only if you need it, but do let someone know that you need help if you do.  

This article is embarrassingly critical in the wrong places. Only at the very end of the article, does Kristin even mention, almost as an afterthought, that perhaps these people might be pardoned for accessing a benefit that they were not entitled to, but almost certainly will never ever be able to pay back. 

A lot of people, myself included, have experienced massive amounts of personal guilt and shame for having to rely on social assistance. For most people, it’s really really hard to ask for help when you need it. We really seriously DO NOT need people like Kristin and her sources, making us feel even worse about ourselves. 

Shame on you Kristin. Shame! 

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