There is wet snow falling outside. It is cold. I was out there maybe five minutes and my hands are frozen. I have a friend visiting from the states, and in celebration I decided to make a special dinner and was missing an ingredient or two. Although I can drive to the store, I was dreading the thought of going out there. It took mental fortification before I was actually able to get up and do so.
While I was at the store, there was a gentleman, as bundled up as he could be, parked on a mobility scooter in the middle of the parking lot. He had a cardboard sign that was slowly getting wetter and losing the text as the the wind pelted him with wet snow. The grayness of the day in addition to the snow made him almost hard to see, an uncomfortable prospect given the cars driving around him.
What could possibly possess him to make him willing to sit there, wet and cold?
He was asking for help.
He is on disability and is asking for help because like the rest of us, he has discovered that disability is not enough to live on realistically. Especially in a city like Ottawa. The housing allowance maxes out before it actually managed to cover the cost of a bachelor apartment. Accessible buildings that can accommodate a wheelchair or walker inside the apartments tend to become more expensive.
You can save some money by moving further outside the city, but then accessible transportation becomes even more essential which eats any savings you might find.
Special diets, whether for Crohn’s, Celiac or Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, certain deficiencies, allergies, or so on, can be expensive. Even when trying to make things from scratch. I had a friend over recently who cannot digest gluten and the ingredients necessary to change basic recipes to make them safe where often only available in natural food stores or other hipster type stores, which often meant a significant markup. Not to mention the transportation often needed to get to these stores.
When you are on social services, when you have no money, moving somewhere cheaper is not an option. When you add in disability your choices are further restricted by access to medical professionals, accessibility, and so on.
I’m lucky. I have a great group of internet friends, and readers who help me make ends meet. Without you, I would lose my car which helps me get around. I would have to endure more pain without my meds and unable to eat foods that cause me less pain. I would possibly lose my apartment and be forced to move somewhere less accessible to me and Alyssa. I would never have been able to sponsor Alyssa for permanent residency.
Even so my own situation is desperate often enough, because every month I run the risk that my supporters will be sick of me constantly asking for money. Or that they will run out of money themselves. A friend recently jokes, that a group of us were just taking turns sending each other money back and forth, all of us just sharing the same little bit ultimately.
Why do I write about this so much? Why do I keep mentioning it?
Because not everyone is as lucky as I am right now. The gentleman in the parking lot? He also has tried gofundme in the past (I tried to see if i could find it but sadly I had no luck), but without a wide internet presence, he didn’t manage to raise any money. He gets more from begging outside the stores.
Everyone I know on or with a disability or on any other type of social service (or attempting to get on it) spends most of their time working on finding ways to make money in hopes of self-sufficiency or even just survival. We open art stores, so that even activities we do to “relax” help make money – which unsurprisingly reduces the relaxation effect. We try to sell our food, we try to monetize our blogs, we monetize any off skill we might have that someone out there might be willing to pay for.
The struggle to raise money. The struggle to survive, to end up in a place where we can spend even just one minute of a day not worrying about making money, not worrying about how we will make the next month’s rent or bills, not worrying about what would happen if we got sick, if something we rely on breaks, if we have an accident, if we have a family emergency: if anything happens that might mean we need money we don’t have fast.
It’s an epidemic, and it is costing lives. It cost one right here on this network.
I talk about it all the time because I’m scared it is slowly killing me. I’m scared as I watch it slowly killing so many of my friends. Because I know that there are thousands of people in the same boat and it is likely slowly killing them.
We don’t have the strength necessary to change things for the better. Our voices are silenced by the weight of our struggle, by the water trying to drown us. We need people to pay attention. We need more people to speak out in favour of an affordable disability support system and a more accessible one as well. We need people to speak in favour of a basic minimum income so that our survival isn’t dependent on us convincing a bureaucracy that we are really sick enough to deserve help. To be allowed to survive.
The man in the parking lot was asking for help surviving another month. He was braving the cars and the snow, wind, wet and cold.
We are screaming for help.