Much of my life I have been a struggling low income person: Guest blog by Pamela Chynn

I am talking today as  a struggling  university  and  journalism  student, as  a  person  who has  on and off  been on  social  assistance,  as a person who  has  been  on  unemployment insurance a  few times, as  a  person who  has  a  couple  of times  been technically homeless  and  has  been through the surreal  roller  coaster nightmare  of  couch  surfing, as  a  temp worker, as a minimum  wage  worker and  currently  after  having   endured several  years  of  bullying  that resulted in suffering  a  long  and  hard  battle with  depression  and anxiety – temporarily  on  ODSP.

Because of this, I  know  all too  well the  struggles  of  being  in  poverty,  of having  had to live in   inadequate  housing  that was  detrimental  to  both  my  physical , mental and emotional  health, of  having  to rely  on  food  banks  and sometimes community  drop ins  for  meals, of  dealing  with threatening  intimidating , demonic -like  calls  from  creditors, of   having  spent  several  years afraid to file  my  taxes  because  of fear that  I  owed  money  and having  heard rumours  and  hearsay  of  what  could   happen  to  people  who  owed   money   in taxes  and  moreover  what could  happen to people who  didn’t  have the  money  to   pay  what they  owed  in taxes.

Not to mention how often there were times when I felt that I really had reason to worry about being able to come up with funds to pay my rent and worry over being tossed out into the street like a bag of garbage instead of being treated like a human being that mattered. It was beyond surreal to talk to ‘regular’ people, who didn’t have a slightest idea about what I was going through and were complaining how the water temperature in the villa they rented from was just a little bit too cold in their jacuzzi.

Feeling like I have been through the often seemingly ludicrous labyrinth of the social system – I turned   to social activism   for healing and for a sense of empowerment. Through social activism – I have learned that empowerment is something that we can only really truly gain by giving to others.

I was so very grateful to learn about this course:  “Financial Literacy “

I felt after all the financial stress I have gone through, as a person living below the poverty line this was an opportunity that I could not afford to miss.

A favourite quote of mine from Benjamin Franklin states “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Through this  program  I  have  come  away   feeling  more  confident   about my  future  because    I  feel  that   I  am  much  more  armed  to  deal with  my  financial  issues  than  before. I   don’t  feel   like I  am  blindly  stumbling  in the  dark  when  it  comes to  dealing with  important  financial issues.

I  realize  now that  having  a sense  of  security   about one’s financial  health  does  not  necessarily  have  to  come from  having  a  plush   bank  account  but  more   importantly  feeling  secure  about  your  future  regardless of  whatever your  economic circumstances might be  comes from having  taken the time  and effort  to  make “an  investment in knowledge”  and   when  it  comes to  securing  your  financial  health,  this  applies across the board to everyone  including  both the non-poor  and  those  living  below the  poverty line.

Through having participated in this  program, the three most important things  that  have stuck out for me  in taking care of  my financial  health is to:

  1. know what  my  rights  and entitlements are
  2. know  what my  financial responsibilities  and obligations  are
  3. take control of instead  of  hiding or running away from my financial  worries

The third lesson- take  control   of  my  financial  circumstances  is really  and  most truly the  most important thing that  I  have  learned from this  program.

Taking  control  of  your   financial  situation  involves  if you  have debts   or feel  that  you  may  have  an unsettled  debt,  find  out to whom and how  much money  you  owe . Making  sure that  even  if you  have  had a  loan  paid off that it  is discharged  so it doesn’t affect other financial  decisions  you  may wish to  make in the future.

I also learned to   be wary of how little consumer protection banks have.

Other  important things that  I  learned through this  program  are:

– the  differences  between  mandatory  and  discretionary  benefits  when  dealing with  OW and  ODSP and also what are the differences  between  allowable  assets  and exempt  assets;and

– what  benefits one  may be entitled to  when one leaves  OW or  ODSP and for  how long   and   how to  appeal  benefits that  have  been  denied   and the  process involved.

Another thing that I learned  when taking this program when dealing with  one of the only two  certain things in life  “taxes” what I   am as a low-income person entitled to and the differences between   refundable and non-refundable tax credits.

And last but not least, I learned how to secure one’s financial health as we move towards our retirement. We live (as John Stapleton used the term), in a “parallel universe.”

Much  of the  media  information  regarding financial retirement  advice  is  geared  towards  the  non-poor  and  the  advice on  investing  in RRSPs  that  we often  hear  about in the  media  is  geared  towards  people  in the  non-poor income  bracket but  that  people  who   are  in the low income bracket  would  often  in  this “parallel  financial  universe “  be well advised to  do  quite the opposite.

The program “Financial Literacy” has   definitely proved to be for me “an investment in knowledge.”

I would  like  to  take this opportunity to thank  Houselink, John Stapleton  and other instructors  who  helped  teach  this  course.

Thank -You.

Pamela Chynn

(Note: Pamela gave this talk on Friday February 27, 2015 at West Neighbourhood House as part of the panel for the Launch of Welcome to the Financial Mainstream? The applause was long and loud from the 100 or so  people who attended.)