Summertime below the Poverty Line


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”: 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 ( ) 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?


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.)