Community Counselling & Resource Centre

Mother living in poverty challenges social media ‘ignorance’

September 27th, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is the first in a series dedicated to poverty in Arnprior. A wide variety of angles and viewpoints, including those of governmental agencies, will be included.

The response from social media to the news that Arnprior has the highest child poverty rate in Renfrew county was frustrating to Danielle Raymond, a mother of two living in rent-geared-to-income housing.

She lives the experience of poverty and knows many others with a similar story. Facebook comments to the Arnprior Chronicle-Guide’s page that blamed women for having children - for ‘not keeping your knees closed’ as one phrased it - are ill informed, she said.

“It comes from a place of ignorance,” said Raymond, who likened the dialogue to a misogynistic witch-hunt. “I felt sick reading those comments.”

Women and their children occupy most of the social housing units in Arnprior, she said, because many are victims of domestic assault. When police remove the accused and lay charges a no contact order arises for both sides. It could take two to eight months to determine if the accused is allowed to contact the children, during which time the mother – in most cases – parents alone and manages family finances. She must also navigate the legal system, both criminal and family, and schedule visits with multiple service agencies.

It could be a year or more before child payments are enforced.

The (mostly) fathers are effectivity absolved of responsibility with the help of notoriously slow courts. Of the dozens of social media comments on the story, none broached the topic of irresponsible males, she noted. Then added that sometimes men are victims of assault, too.

“Assault I think is pretty consistent in housing. There’s quite a bit in Arnprior,” she said. “The system strips away responsibility from men and villainizes women by putting the onus women for child rearing.” 

In her case and others she knows of, Raymond said there was no deliberate intention to accept funding from Ontario Works. There is so little money, which requires such a massive effort to obtain from government agencies, that few would voluntarily put themselves in poverty, she surmises. A case-by-case consideration of those in poverty should replace sweeping assumptions.

I can't help but shake my head when I think of all the assumptions my former well-intentioned self made about the people living in poverty.”

Raymond is both university and college educated (the first in her family); observably intelligent and articulate; has worked many jobs, including high-salaried careers; and is a long-time rights advocate for the poor.

However, she has done the math. She would need a job that pays $42,000 for her to leave social assistance. The minute she took any job her rent and utility bills would rise to the maximum level, the child tax and GST benefits would drop, childcare support would soon evaporate, and gasoline and businesses clothing costs would increase.

“People don’t get it. It catches you in this sticky point,” she said. “If only they could keep some benefits there for a time.”

A few turns of fate – including trusting the wrong person, having a high-needs child – and she was caught in the “trap” of poverty. A high-needs child can add extra stress on a family and prove more time consuming. Her daughter Rowan, 11, and son Elijah, 4, are fortunate to attend school in Canada where the public systems are known for equity and high standards.

But in her son’s case, he has yet to be assessed; it costs money for a quick diagnosis by a specialist; so he won’t get a shared educational assistant (EA) like other students. Poor folks have to work with agencies like Family and Children’s Services, the Phoenix Centre, Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre, and CHEO. The waitlists are long and the work is time consuming, which can add up to years.

“I waited over six months for my son to see a counsellor at the Phoenix Centre only to be told they weren’t sure the right fit when it came to addressing his particular needs.”

Raymond explained that it is a pileup of disadvantages such as the lack of an EA, and the inability to collect child support, which lead to an inevitable complaint: poor people beget poor people. The kids learn it from their parents, as the comments go.

“I would say it is a cycle, not question,” she said. “There isn’t the same access to opportunities other people have.”

It should be mentioned that upper classes also learn from their parents. Money begets money. Inheritance, travel and extracurricular activities, access to better education and healthier foods – rich people have many advantages beyond personal abilities and even genetics that keep them from slipping into poverty. Most didn’t make it on their own; yet often insist poor people pull themselves out of poverty through individual effort.

There is a growing gap between the shrinking few rich and the enlarging poor. According to Statistics Canada’s income survey, from 2006 to 2015, the top 20 per cent increased their after-tax income from 44 to 45 per cent. The share of the remaining 80 per cent shrank.

A common complaint is that poor people shouldn’t have money for frills such as cigarettes, alcohol, and pets. Raymond’s mother even told her to stop shaving her legs.

She agrees that in an ideal world all the money would go to benefit children. But mental health problems are rampant among the poor. Self-medicating is inevitable. But she also insists the government agencies overseeing funding can make life so frustrating – through incompetence, ignoring rights, and other charges – that they push clients toward self-harm.

“The system contributes to mental illness. The fight to get money sometimes drives you crazy,” Raymond said. “Just navigating the services available, the eligibility requirements and the personalities on the other side of the desk can consistently amount to 5 - 15 hours a week. This, in addition to parenting on one's own and dealing with the many unrelenting factors that lead to and feed into cycle of poverty - leaves the best of us exhausted and at times hopeless.”

Raymond hasn’t lost hope. She is a born fighter.

“I’ve just always been this way. I see an injustice… and I’ve had some adversity in my life,” she said. “And it really hits home for me to know that I’m in it.”

Adversity is important to instilling compassion, she said. If more people suffered they would sympathize with others who do.

Of all that she has suffered in the past few years, the most piercing has been the loss of power. In an eloquent and moving email to Metroland, Raymond said: “What I find most difficult about being poor is that I've lost my voice. As a paid professional, when I spoke or wrote passionately about the lives of others living in poverty - without ever having experienced being poor - people listened and valued my words.

“Now that I have direct experience with the issue my voice is suddenly irrelevant. I'm seen as making excuses for the life I've made for my children and me. I'm ridiculed when I try to speak out; accused of being lazy or worse.

“As you can see from some of the comments on Facebook."