Summertime below the Poverty Line

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On bus fare, cream soda slurpees and surviving the summer.

By Trisha Baptie | Twitter: @trisha_baptie

Summer is upon us and while I’m happy to embrace my flipflops, get sticky and skin-safe with sun lotion and dust off the ole’ picnic bag, I am also aware–especially in my neighbourhood–of the panic and extra stress summer can bring for those in the low income demographic.

I will always talk about the poor in the first person narrative as this is my perspective. I am not trying to be a downer; it’s just that when I look out my front door, go to my kids’ school and try to live my life, this is the perspective I have. I think I should also define what I mean by poor.

Here’s a guide for what qualifies as the “poverty line”: http://www.ccsd.ca/factsheets/fs_lic01.htm I actually live on an amount a great deal less than that, as do a good portion of my neighbours and most of us have kids. I won’t give you exact figures (I’m not looking to have a pity party, it’s just the truth) but I have shown Idelette my tax assessment, so she can vouch for me.

So, for a lot of my peeps summer is a HUGE expense. We have a hot lunch program at my school,  so for families it now means they have to provide an extra meal a day … What do you do with all those extra summer days?

If your kids are too old for daycare and you’re working, they tend to roam the neighbourhood. If your kids are little, how do you occupy them? Remembering a single parent on income assistance gets less than $1,000 a month for shelter, food, clothing, hydro, phone, internet … everything (http://www.mhr.gov.bc.ca/mhr/ia.htm ) and also gets a monthly family bonus.

How do you plan a trip to, well, anywhere that you can’t walk as bus fare for one mom &   2 kids is $6 each way–and that’s one zone! That’s a huge expense when your budget is skint.

Those fun extras

As a mom it also kills you when you have to keep saying no to the fun extras every parent wants to give their kids, like slurpees and ice cream cones. If you can’t afford bus fare out of your neighbourhood, how the heck do you plan a family “vacation” or say yes to an impromptu slurpee?

There are some fantastic camps that provide a week away for inner city kids, so they can explore a real forest, rather than just the concrete jungle, but all the other days add up to a whole lot of time for mischief-making.

Wanna know when most kids try drugs, petty crime, or get involved in “gangs” for the first time? Summer, out of sheer boredom. Can I prove this?

Nope.

Hang in the ‘hood, though, and you’ll see it.

At a time when the social safety net is suffering the erosion from a million little cuts, we must realize that cutting any program that helps kids is essentially guaranteeing their failure; cutting programs that help their parents be better parents is also failing them.

Do we want to pay now for amazing programs that provides a break from their stark reality, open their minds to new possibilities and open their hearts to new passions, or do we want to pay for them in 15 years when they need treatment centres, jails, or are now themselves on income assistance?

Trust me, we all pay for each other. I guess the question is do we want to empower a life, or have a hired guard to turn the key daily on the door to remind them of failure?

Summer is a fun, beautiful, alive time, but for single parents it can be a gut-wrenching time of “What are they up to while I’m at work?” Or while the parent is at the required job placement program ordered by social assistance. Am I saying single parents shouldn’t work? No.

But we must acknowledge how thin parents as spread, we must stop the whole “You choose to have ‘em, you deal with ‘em” mentality and support, come alongside, empower and leave the lectures at home. Yup. One of my neighbours has seven kids; my good friend has six. Asking “Why?” or “How could you?” does not help them feed their little people or encourage relationship. Saying: “Here’s a gift card for 7-Eleven slurpees and a book of bus tickets. You all go to the beach,” says, I am in this with you and I value all you are trying to do.

Maybe this summer Jesus is saying “I love you” through a nice, cold, cream soda slurpee.

About Trisha
Trisha Baptie is Executive Director of Honour Consulting and founding member of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating). In 2008 she won BC’s Courage to Come Back Award for her bravery in transitioning to a healthier lifestyle, for giving the murdered women of Vancouver a voice through her trial coverage of Vancouver’s serial killer and for her ongoing activism. Follow Trisha’s tweets at @trisha_baptie or friend her on facebook. She recently founded EVE (formerly Exploited Voices Now Educating.)

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Idelette McVicker
I like soggy cereal and I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women. I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth. My word last year was “roar” and I learned it’s not about my voice rising as much as it is about our collective voices rising in unison to bring down walls of injustice. This year, my own word is “soar.” I have three children and this place–right here, called shelovesmagazine.com–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. Give me sweet chai and I think I’m in heaven. I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 11 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us. I blog at idelette.com and tweet @idelette.
Idelette McVicker

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  • TiffanyW

    Thank you for sharing this reality with us. In three weeks I will officially be a single mom, and really that scares me so much, especially because it is summer so I can’t work as much as I need. Praying for all those other single parents who just need someone to come alongside them during this time and believing my friends will be a great support to me and my son too.

    • http://www.tinafrancisphotography.com/ Tina

      Tiff my love,

      I’m so sorry. I had NO idea you were going through this. :( Please know that I’m here if you need me. Walks in the park, babysitting or just someone to listen. I will be keeping you and your family in prayer during this tender time. *tight hug*

      Love you, xoxo
      Teen

    • http://www.shelovesmagazine.com idelette

      Tiffany, I had no idea … I am so sorry. Thank you for your courage to share what you’re going through. Tina said it: Please don’t hesitate to let us know how we can come alongside you. Please … This is what #Love is about.

  • Kelley Johnson Nikondeha

    Trish,
    I so appreciate your honesty and keeping us tuned in to reality for those around us. I think your reminder to not judge or question, but rather come alongside in true community care are prophetic words to be heeded this summer (and every season). I am so glad your voice is part of SheLoves, how we need you! Thank you for saying the truth and not allowing us to miss opportunities around us to really love one another, which is what Jesus asks of us. I am keeping my eyes open to others this summer – not just on my own kids. I hope I can make a summer day brighter for some friends…

  • http://www.shelovesmagazine.com idelette

    Trisha, I love how you challenge me and how you teach me … You know, the thing that struck a chord tonight: “Maybe this summer Jesus is saying “I love you” through a nice, cold, cream soda slurpee.” Not through a necessity; not through a can of mushroom soup, but through the things that everyone likes … Do I love enough to give extravagantly in that way, so a mom could treat her kids, just like I like to give my kids a treat … I want to have eyes to see Love that way. Thank you so much, my friend.

  • http://Honourconsulting.com Trisha Baptie

    Tiffany,
    thanks for sharing and while it’s tough it’s also the most amaing gig any person can have. Reach out to your friends, know people love you and want to help and remember you do not need to do it all!!
    Always pick going to the park over doing the dishes, always take an extra 5 mins of snuggle time over the ironing… really.

    • TiffanyW

      Thanks Trisha. I will definitely make snuggling a priority and am very thankful for the friends I have. I know this is going to be really hard to get used to, but for my little guy I know I will make it through :)

    • http://www.shelovesmagazine.com idelette

      You iron? // Lost art in this house.

  • Michelle Miler

    Great writing, TB! (yes, I’m calling you TB again even though it’s a disease). I especially like that you backed up what you are saying with facts. So often we want let such horrifying facts slip out of our brains thinking they CAN’T be true, but you don’t let us off the hook. It’s also a great reminder to give kids in my ‘hood some extra lovin’ this summer, especially ones in the 10-17 range.

  • Cindy Beatch

    Really well written article and heart felt. Thanks for showing me yet another way to help others. Never thought of a gift certificate to 7/11 for slurpees. Bless you.