Resilience and strength bolster strained resources
Low-income earners are a diverse group in our community. Their struggle is profound. They are are also resourceful, hard-working, and resilient.
Mary Smith (pseudonym) is a single mother receiving AISH, Canada Child Benefit (CCB), and court-ordered support. After rent, her AISH deposit is $185. Smith works under the table and uses food banks. Bent Arrow provides some meals. She says, “I often go nights without food so the kids can [eat], because they come first.”
Smith has a certificate in childcare from MacEwan University and plans to study for more certification. Under constant stress, she takes Bent Arrow’s anger management classes. “Truthfully, it sucks living on [low-income].” But she sees a better future: “I could see myself getting out of this. It’s not going to happen overnight. It takes time.”
Joanne Wood is a retired security guard who receives AISH. In 2009, she moved from the reserve to Edmonton to help raise her new grandson. At the time, her son was working and her daughter-in-law was at university. Ten years later, Wood is “still here.” She says, “I don’t regret a thing. I enjoy being a full-time kookum [Cree for grandmother]. I’m teaching my grandchildren. When kookum steps in, it’s traditional parenting.”
Wood contributes to household expenses. Rarely, she uses the food bank. She uses free childcare at Bent Arrow and at The Candora Society, where she took a financial literacy program. “That was how I learned to budget and be on top of things.”
Wood shares cultural knowledge with impressive zeal. She says, “I grew up in a log house. I got my teaching in a log house. We had everything we needed. Both grandparents were medicine pickers. I’m following my tradition.” She sews and beads—everything from earrings to pow wow regalia. At Concordia University and at Abbotsfield library, Smith teaches beading and ribbon shirt and skirt making. An honorarium keeps her within AISH guidelines.
“I have a system in regards to budgeting, grocery shopping, and meal planning. I am very content with what I do.” She concludes, “My grandchildren are a blessing to me. They keep me young. I’m thankful. I pray to the Creator everyday in regards to everything that’s provided.”
Victoria Harrington smirks and rolls her eyes about receiving the 2019 Lois Hole Learner Award. With her bone-dry wit, she says, “I still haven’t figured out who nominated me, so I haven’t been able to tell them off. It’s for being the greatest grandma in Edmonton, I guess. [But] I’m not the only grandma fighting to take care of a special-needs grandchild on low income. Thanks for the piece of glass.”
Harrington’s humility, couched in sarcasm, speaks to the tremendous difficulties she faces. She is single, with full guardianship and parental rights over her 15 month-old special needs grandchild, Raevyn, who needs full-time care (and steals hearts wherever she goes). She receives $1,200 per month from social services. Her rent and utilities cost $925. Her CCB is $500. She uses Bissell Centre and Bent Arrow resources, including an anger management course and meals. “So that’s four meals covered in the week.” Other days, she may go without eating. “I try not to go to the food bank. My adoptive brother came and filled my cupboards. That’s for Raevyn.”
For childcare, “The staff at the Bissell Centre bend over backwards to make sure Raevyn has a spot. She’s being well taken care of.” Harrington neglects her self-care. She has health issues and is visibly tired. She endures. “I’m doing OK with what I’ve got. I went from homeless to having a home.”
Low-income life is tough, especially for those who have no support, either financially or socially. Earners show great endurance and resourcefulness in the face of complicated obstacles. The best scenarios have support through organizations and strong social networks.
Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society/Parent Link Centre
The Candora Society
Featured Image: Victoria Harrington takes care of her special-needs grandchild while on a low income. | Rebecca Lippiatt