Systems supporting seniors in poverty need an overhaul, and quickly

I found out about this blog and want to add something about a sector of this group which does not get much publicity and which I’m sure is growing: those between 60 and 65 who have lost their jobs, are unable to get work, and are not yet eligible to receive the full (OAS) pension at 65. My husband and I belong in this group and the only income we have is from CPP and because we started taking it early (at 60) the total of our two pensions is $450. a month. (Yes I had hoped, when I filled out the form stating I was the main caretaker for a child until 7 years of age, that that would be worth more than $15. a month in pension.)

Needless to say we are behind in our rent and bills, Hydro being the most pressing. We heard the Salvation Army would be able to help with arrears so we made an appointment and were told that the Salvation Army will only help if you make enough money to pay your rent and bills. Yes, you read that right. I was too stunned to reply: If we made enough money to pay our rent and bills, we would not be in arrears! She said our only option was to go to Ontario Works or we would be homeless. That was a happy day (maybe that is the plan? Compel the 60-somethings to commit suicide so they don’t have to deal with homeless seniors? Not so lol). My husband called Ontario Works and if we qualify we can expect “around $1,000. a month” but they will deduct our pensions from that – we cannot have any income other than the $1,000. a month. We are Canadian citizens, we have paid taxes all our lives, and we are frugal: we don’t own a car (therefore not paying insurance, gas, repairs, etc.), we never go out to dinner, we don’t even order in. I cut our hair (my colour comes in a box, on sale). Christmas and birthday presents are a thing of the past. In other words, it’s only a matter of time before we will be in arrears again because it is impossible to live on less than HALF of what is considered the level of poverty in Canada.

We had an appointment with Ontario Works last week and this is how it went: they will not pay the rent arrears, they will not pay Hydro which was going to cut us off the next day. The case-worker said she would e-mail Hydro and ask them to delay until we went back to the Salvation Army and asked again if they would pay it. She had our last three months of bank statements in front of her, they had done a credit check and knew we had no credit cards, no source of income other than the pension, and our bank balance as of that day was $4.00, yet she didn’t ask how we were going to manage until the end of the month. Instead she said: “If your daughter gives you $20. you must report it and it will be deducted from your cheque.”

When people are worried about their very survival, when they are hounded by Hydro, Reliance, and landlord, they are living in constant anxiety and depression. And the last thing they need is to meet with someone from Ontario Works who lacks any sense of humanity or compassion. Prison is starting to look like a viable alternative (we have never committed a crime in our lives). At least we would have a roof over our heads and food (and hydro).

If poverty and crime are to be significantly reduced, then the systems in place – pensions, disability, social services –  need a major overhaul, and quickly because they are not working at all.