THUNDER BAY – It is unfortunately too frequent, and too predictable. A person receiving social assistance receives their cheque, and ends up spending it on the very things that cause them to be in need.
Ontario is in the process of an in-depth review of how social programs are administered. “In a rapidly changing economy, people need the right supports to get through difficult times. The social assistance system we have now is not doing the job we want. The broad scope of this review will get us where we need to go to really extend opportunity to everyone,” stated Gail Nyberg, the Executive Director of the Daily Bread Food Bank and former Chair of the Social Assistance Review Advisory Council in the Ontario Government announcement of the year long examination of the issue.
Perhaps the real issue is that for most people on social assistance, the economy isn’t changing at all. Their personal lives remain the same no matter what happens around them.
To illustrate: One lady I know in Thunder Bay has gone through her entire monthly cheque in one day.
She got the cheque, and at 11:00AM cashed it. She then headed to the bar. Her friends all helped her celebrate the fact that she had money. By 3:00PM she had gone through over $400. She got another $200 out of the bank. Two hours after that, another $100.
The next morning, she was left with $40.00, and a killer hangover. Somehow that $40 was going to have to get her through the rest of the month.
If you have wondered perhaps one of the reasons demand at the food bank is up, it could be people like this lady who are making poor choices. This individual needed the food bank in order to supply her with food because she spent all of the money she had on drugs and alcohol.
How do I know this? She had no problem sharing the information with me the next day. She was hung-over, and broke and remorseful.
Is that uncommon? Not really, her cheque arrived in her mailbox yesterday. Along with five friends, the first stop after getting her cheque was the LCBO. She purchased a case of alcohol, so that everyone could have a good time.
Tomorrow? Why bother thinking about tomorrow, right now there is enough money for everyone to party today. That is the lifestyle. It is a pattern that has repeated itself for months if not years.
This is a lady who this summer had her children taken from her by social services over concerns that excessive alcohol and drug use was endangering her children. The power of alcohol and drugs over people is stronger than anything in her life. Yet, instead of having some form of help in what is obviously a known problem she has been left for six months to wallow in her addictions.
Nothing has been done to make a difference in her life. When this woman is sober, she is sorry for what she has done and promises that she won’t do it again. Of course without help, those words are simply promises that will be broken. That leads to an ever-downward spiral of depression and despair.
That is the real tragedy of the current delivery of social assistance, instead of offering a hand up and a way forward, we are generating a repeating pattern that is not solved. Maybe sometimes it isn’t more money that is needed. Maybe one solution might be putting social workers closer to the frontlines, along with the police in neighbourhoods at risk.
In Thunder Bay the lack of treatment facilities has been long addressed as a problem. That issue likely must be addressed as quickly as possible in order to help solve the problems too.
Often solving problems means addressing them at their base. While many people who are on social assistance do not have problems with alcohol or drugs, those who do often become the stereotype for all of those in society who need a helping hand.
The larger task for society is providing that needed help.