Families trapped by poverty

Salmon Arm: Residents struggle to meet increasing budget pressures.

Searching for shelter: Sonja Dye and Stephen Vanderkroft stop in to the Shuswap Family Resource Centre for support.

Rachel and Tom Miller are experts in the art of juggling.

From the beginning of the month to the end, they juggle their finances, trying to see if they can make it through without going to Money Mart for a loan, trying to figure out how they can stretch their food.

Some months are better than others.

The Millers – which isn’t their real name as they requested anonymity – are the parents of two children, one seven, one under a year.

For Rachel, it’s important to emphasize they’re not poor, they’re low income. They live in a trailer and, with her father’s help, rent to own it.

They had both been working when they met. However, Tom was injured while doing industrial work. He receives a small disability pension because of the injury.

They eventually cashed in their savings and moved to this area to be closer to family.

Until four years ago, Tom was driving truck but developed serious health problems. In 2013 he underwent neck surgery that led to the loss of his Class One driver’s licence. He endures back pain and is unable to pick up more than 10 pounds. He wants to work, but options are limited.

Rachel ponders going back to retail when her baby is older, but the cost of child care is prohibitive.

“The first two weeks of the month, we’re good,” says Rachel, noting the bills get paid. Then, whatever’s left goes to groceries – usually $200 to $300.

“Most of our groceries we buy at Walmart. People say shop local, I can’t… Sometimes we might hit a dollar store, especially for spices.”

Although they feel uneasy going to the food banks, they must go anyway.

“You can only get a hamper from the food bank every 60 days, and you only get enough food for about a week. You can get a bit more now that you can go in twice a week and get anything off the tables,” she says.

They have received help from the community, such as the Healthiest Babies program, the Salvation Army, their church and their family.

Still, it’s difficult.

“Like now we’re broke. We actually borrowed money from Money Mart again.

“We’re struggling, but we’re not on the streets. A lot of people are in the same boat, but lots are worse off.”

Sonja Dye and Stephen Vanderkroft could be considered ‘worse off.’

They are parents, but they don’t currently live with their baby. And they are homeless. They have been living ‘rough,’ staying in a tent, at the homeless shelter or couch surfing.

Dye, 22, and Vanderkroft, 29, have a 10-month-old son who was removed from their care when he was a month old because of ‘non-organic failure to thrive.’

“They were saying I wasn’t feeding him, they thought we were smoking while I was holding him and, because they knew about our past, they were very skeptical,” Dye says.

The baby is in foster care with Vanderkroft’s mother. Their situation is reviewed every three months.

What the couple wants most at the moment is a home. They both speak enthusiastically about being a parent.

“When I was little, I was the one my sisters would go to,” says Dye. “I’ve always loved kids ever since I was a little kid.”

Smiles Vanderkroft: “It’s just awesome – I was looking forward to it all my life.”

Dye and Vanderkroft met three years ago at a homeless shelter in Nova Scotia. Having both spent their early years shifted between foster homes, they understood each other.

They ended up in the West Kootenay for a year where Vanderkroft’s father lives, with Dye working in a deli and Vanderkroft finding odd jobs.

Then, after Dye became pregnant, they moved to Salmon Arm to be close to a hospital where the baby could be born. Although they found a home, they weren’t able to keep it. With Dye on maternity leave and he on welfare, they were bringing in a total of $650 per month for shelter – while the rent was $750 – and $200 for groceries, Vanderkroft says.

He explains the $580 she received for maternity leave was deducted off the total. “That’s what’s kept us trapped all year on the welfare system. If I go out and accept a job and if I was to make $200 this month, they would put it on the stub and take $200 off in January.”

He’d like to see people be able to make an amount above the welfare rate so they could “feel good about themselves because they’re working, and not have the stress of, ‘where am I going to get the money next month?’”

He said he does job searches daily, but a lot of them require a vehicle. Also, the ministry allows them to see their son only during certain daytime hours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, which they both hate to miss.

Vanderkroft is hopeful he will get landscaping work in the spring. He’s also done roofing and has taken BladeRunners training, which included running a chainsaw, first aid and other courses.

Dye admits the stress of being homeless makes it tough to launch into school or work, and to get along.

“We fight a lot now, but we love each other.”


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