Thursday, 10 May 2012

Growing Up Poor

Whenever it comes up, and I mention to someone that I was "poor" growing up, no one ever really understands what I mean.  They think I mean "poor" as in "not rich", and tell me that they were, too.

But I don't mean "poor", as in "I couldn't afford a car when I was a teenager".  No, I mean "poor", as in "I was so poor we couldn't afford socks".  We were so poor, consignment clothing was too expensive for us.  We were so poor, we went weeks without eating because it was a choice between eating or paying rent.  Often, I walked the 4 km to, and 4 km back from school because we couldn't afford bus fare.  In winter, we couldn't afford heat and toughed it out in warm clothing.  We were so poor, my elementary and high school wouldn't accept even a $10 cheque from my parents.  The administrator would call me down to the office to ask me if I could bring in cash because she didn't want to have to deal with a bounced cheque.  I've lived without furniture; I didn't have a real bed to sleep on.  I slept on an air mattress that got punctured, so I slept on a pile of sheets.  We were so poor, we were evicted I don't even know how many times; so poor that my sister and I did all of the heavy lifting when were children because we couldn't afford movers, my parents' friends deserted us, and my parents were sickly and in and out of hospitals. The longest place we lived in was filled with rats and roaches - it was over a restaurant that blasted music until 4am while I tried to sleep.  So, I would sleep in the library at school during my spare and then I'd get accused of partying too much.  Heh.

When that landlord was going to raise rent, we made a bargain with him: give us a good reference so we can at least get into a Co-Op and we'll leave without trouble.  After a few years of waiting, we got into one, thinking it would help because of the rent-geared-to-income, but even that didn't work out.  If it weren't for tenant laws, we would have been homeless: we fell half a year behind on rent, and they took us to court.  There was always something; constant damage control.  Someone died; someone in the hospital; social assistance denied/cancelled; unexpected bills.  Something.

I was poor, and not only do people not quite comprehend what I mean when I say this, they don't believe me.  But I understand.  The numbers were against us.  The likelihood of getting any education, and moving outside of those extreme poverty levels was very low.  Social systems weren't developed in a way that made it possible for someone living in extreme poverty to escape it.  They were developed to sustain it.  Example: when I started University, my dad's social worker cancelled his Disability funding (he was severely disabled from his work in a factory) because she contended that I was an able-bodied member of the family who should be contributing to the living costs, and their healthcare.  My scholarship and OSAP barely covered my school expenses, let alone familial ones with elderly, sickly parents.  I tried moving out so that my student existence would not affect their funding, but that didn't help.  I just .. did what I had to do.  I did the only thing that could be done; the thing they basically told me to do.

Anyway, well, I assure you it's all true.  So, that my sister and I are content with our financial statuses, it's because we're miles ahead of where we are coming from.  When we say that we could give away everything we have and live with nothing, it's because we have had nothing.

We're not upset, or even disappointed with life.  Just .. frustrated when it comes to telling people ... when I say poor, I mean poor...

There was an error in this gadget