A Walk in Other’s Shoes is returning to this year’s Week of Action Against Poverty. This challenge is being undertaken by individuals in the community who have interests within the health field. Participants have been asked to attempt to stay within a social assistance benefits’ budget. A single person on Ontario Works would receive $337 monthly for all of their personal needs and $384 for all of their shelter costs. Because participants cannot replicate the housing conditions realistically, shelter costs are not included within this challenge. For the five day challenge, participants will have $11 daily to cover all food and drink, entertainment, some personal supplies and transportation costs. Each day, every participant will be given a challenge card which will reveal an unexpected challenge to be completed before the end of the day.

A Walk in Other’s Shoes is not a competitive challenge. It is a challenge that raises awareness of the hurdles that people living on social assistance face daily. As we within our community develop our own understanding, we can begin to reduce the barriers that they encounter and ultimately increase opportunities for increased prosperity for all. The challenge takes place February 10th-14th, 2018.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Final thoughts ...

The daily challenges were a bit of a mixed bag. On Sunday, I discovered I didn’t have any socks. I found some in  the dirty laundry hamper, but even after I’d run them through the wash - using a squirt of dish detergent, since I’d run out of laundry soap and already exhausted my budget for the week - it turned out one of them had a huge hole in it. Fortunately, I had seen my mother darning socks when I was a child so I pulled out some sewing supplies and a light bulb, and patched the hole as best I could. I got a few more days wear out of those socks and rose to the challenge. 
I thought about that afterward - how disposable everything is these days, and how the constant exchange of money for stuff is just a given for so many of us. And such a challenge for so many more. Quantity really does seem to trump quality these days …
On Monday it was my turn to bring a treat to share with my coworkers in the office. Looking around at my stash of chili and a few leftover chips and dips, I elected to work from home that day. I had no money to buy anything, and while it had been a great meal with a group of friends I didn’t see it as a coffee break treat and I chose to avoid the situation altogether, rather than coming up with an excuse. 
Tuesday’s challenge was a lifesaver, with my much more solvent auntie inviting me out for lunch. You really appreciate these little luxuries so much more when they are few and far between …
And finally, Wednesday’s challenge put me over the edge - literally and figuratively. An extra $3 bank charge. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re already riding a zero balance more often than not it does, literally, put you in the hole. At the bank, they look at that as borrowing and they charge you interest for ‘letting you use their money’, as well as a penalty for using it without their prior permission. So the next deposit is already reduced by the amount you’ve gone in the hole. Leaving less for the next week. Possibly creating a larger overdraft. And so it goes - endlessly digging in deeper and deeper. Unless some kind of windfall comes along to save the day and keep you out of the hole. At least for awhile, until some unforeseen and unavoidable expense comes along to re-start the overdraft cycle again. 
By last night, I am embarrassed to admit how glad I for that this challenge to be over. As we were all gearing up for it last week, Nan pondered how people can spend time exploring larger social and political issues if they are always thinking about survival. I found myself reflecting on that a lot during this week, after hearing the verdict in the trial of the man who shot Colten Boushie. Sure, I was thinking about how I was going to survive the week. But I also couldn’t stop thinking about what I was hearing and seeing on social media. 
On the one hand, I was outraged at the injustice of the whole situation. On the other, I was not at all surprised at any of it, and found myself wondering what was the point - of anything. Really living in poverty means having a number of cards stacked against you. The system is always on the alert for some fraud you might commit, and ready to claw back every extra buck you might make. With all due respect to the well intentioned people who work in it, my experience was generally of being made to feel ‘less than’ people who didn’t need their help. Maybe that’s some kind of personal baggage I’ve carried from ‘family of origin’ issues, but it’s not the best attribute to nurture if you’re trying to help someone succeed. So when something as outstanding as that verdict comes along, my sense is that it adds yet another weight to an already soul-crushing burden. You can’t help but think about it. You explore it all right - but from a sense of helplessness that verges on hopelessness. 

Fortunately, I do have a small but mighty support system that is always there to assure me there is hope and to walk with me until I’m feeling a bit stronger again. It’s these key relationships that have always kept me connected, and energized me so I could keep going against what sometimes seems like all odds. Without that, I never would have arrived where I am today. With humble gratitude ...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fast forward to Day 5

Time certainly does fly! And it seems I have a habit of thinking about things instead of actually doing them. Note to self for future reference ...

I said I'd let you know how things went with the dinner on Saturday. The dinner itself was a spectacular success, if I say so myself. Appetizers included two kinds of corn chips (thin, and blue) with guacamole and mango salsa. The main was an incredibly nutrient-dense chili, served over brown rice. Dessert was a rough apple pastry topped with vanilla mousse. My guests all seemed to enjoy their meals, and while everyone left with a full stomach there was a good amount left over - which was a wonderful thing, since my trip to the grocery store was an epic fail.

I went intending to purchase just what I needed for the dinner party and live on what was left for the balance of the challenge. I thought that stretching my grocery dollar was one of the skills I had retained from the old days. Turns out, not so much. Not only do I not track the mounting total very accurately, but I have a habit of throwing in random items that aren't on the list but might enhance what I'm planning, or come in handy some other time. Like the half-price toilet paper screaming at me the minute I walked in the door. Who can say no to that deal? We all need it, right?

So when I got the check-out I was disappointed - but not overly surprised - to have spent my entire allowance essentially on the one meal. The good news is that there was enough chili left over to feed me - and another member of my household - for the remainder of the challenge. Lunch at work, and dinner at home.

Thankfully yesterday's challenge wasn't really a challenge - my favourite (and rich!) auntie offered to take me out to lunch, so I had a pass from the budget. Talk about a gift - the leftover chili was getting a bit low, so that allowed me to stretch it into today.

I'll admit I'm a bit tired of the stuff at this point, but I've been covering all the food groups. My recipe includes a whole bunch of veg, a ton of fibre, lots of complete protein, and not a whole lot of carbs (which I typically try to avoid).

Final score? Budgeting 0, nutrition 10. Also, exercise 10. I've been faithfully doing my podcast yoga workouts every morning, and between that and my new diet I'm beginning to feel like I might be shaping up a bit. Bonus!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

I reflect on the irony of blogging, on a computer, connected to the internet, as I prepare to embark on the $11/day challenge.

I've started my day with a yoga class. No gym or studio membership required - I download podcasts for a subscription fee of $0.25 a day. On the face of it more affordable than going out to a class, but ...

When I was poor, I didn't have a computer. Or internet. It was a long time ago, and those things barely existed or were just in their infancies. Neither did the flip phone - never mind the smart phone. But I know I wouldn't have been able to afford any of them. Yet another of the many things I take for granted these days ...

My first challenge is ironic. "It is a special occasion. Plan an outing with friends. You need to pay for yourself." In fact, today I am scheduled to entertain a group of my friends in my home with a gourmet dinner. My original menu plan had centered around Beef Wellington. That is no longer on the table. It's the morning of, and I'm struggling to figure out how I'm going to do this within my $55 budget for the week. But I'm determined to see what is possible, and how my friends respond. I keep trying to remind myself that it's about the friendships and the time we spend together, rather than impressing them with the product or the presentation. I'll let you know how that goes.