Peg Sharing Circle - Exploring the Lived Experience of Poverty - Lonny & Greta (1 of 3)

By Lonny, Greta, Christa Rust (Interviewer), Jason E.J. Manaigre (Technical Producer) on February 15, 2011

"Poverty for me means not having $5 for your pocket, not even $5"

"It's a constant struggle: I always worry about spending money on anything. Right now I only have $1."

Lonny and Greta are living in a common-law relationship, along with six of their eight children. They have been on social assistance for seven years, and they find it very difficult. The program provides them with $6,000 per month for eight people.

Lonny and Greta live in a three-bedroom Manitoba Housing unit and find Manitoba Housing difficult to deal with. Their home is too small for eight people. Despite the fact that the older boys need their own space, they're not allowed to build a bedroom in the basement because it would be a fire hazard. Furthermore, they spoke of how they are billed when something needs fixing. For example, one of their children threw an apple in the toilet, so they needed to call the plumber on the weekend. They said that Manitoba Housing billed them even though "we're obviously low income . . . that's why we're in Housing" and don't have money to pay the bill. In June, they went through a hearing for a different issue : neighbours jumped Greta's daughter, slashed her face with a beer bottle, and then smashed their windows. Lonny and Greta received a bill for $1,800 to fix the windows. Greta stated that they appealed the billing and won that case. They still have to pay the $191 plumbing bill.

Their issues with housing are exacerbated by the current bedbug epidemic. Their home has been sprayed twice. They had to get rid of their furniture and can't afford to replace it. Lonny said that rich people get dealt with right away, but when you living in Manitoba Housing you have to wait 20-30 days for the second spray. Greta added that the hatching time is only 10 days, and so the longer wait doesn't help them. They both indicated that they're tired of the bites.

Both Lonny and Greta recalled the experiences that have led them to this point. Lonny went to school on the reserve and then at David Livingstone School. Although they didn't have much money, his stepfather spoiled him with toys. Lonny feels that he did that to feel better when he saw the look on his son's face and wouldn't feel that he was depriving him. Lonny recognizes the same pattern in himself now. When he was younger, he spent time involved in alcohol and drug use, gangs, jails, Manitoba Youth Centre, and ‘the pen'. He said that when he was involved in programs, he didn't need to worry about money - but then when he got out, he didn't have money and would go back to crime.

Greta also grew up on social assistance. She became pregnant when she was 16 and living on the reservation. She had her second baby when she was 17. She left the reservation when she was 18. Her parents wouldn't let her take her children with her, and so she had to involve the police in getting them back. She initially stayed in a women's shelter when she got to Winnipeg, and then at the Salvation Army. When it was time to leave Salvation Army, Greta quickly rented the first home she could find. She met another man and had three children with him. She is currently attempting to get child support from her previous two boyfriends.

The one time that Greta found social assistance to be helpful, she said, was when her son had leukemia. He was in treatment for 3 ½ years and they received a lot of help from both social assistance and CancerCare Manitoba. They paid for her taxis to the hospital, for which she was grateful. Her son is now in remission.

Both Greta and Lonny would like to find work and both went back to school to that end. Despite being trained, neither of them has been able to obtain employment. An additional barrier that Lonny faces is that there are jobs that aren't options for him due to clearance limitations.

Lonny and Greta had a lot to say about the experience of living in poverty. Lonny said, "It's insane the way we live. People think that we're used to the way we live-but that's not what I'm used to." He added that trying to find ways to pay bills is emotionally troubling and stressful on their relationship. They get tired of having to report to social assistance and of the assumptions made about them based on their poverty. If something is stolen from their home, it's assumed that they are lying because they live in poverty. Instead of recognizing the fact that their home isn't protected, it is also assumed that they pawned their belongings.

The couple finds that money management is difficult. When they get unexpected money, Greta would like to use it to pay the bills, while Lonny sees it as an opportunity to get something they usually can't afford. He wants to be able to do more for his children and not have them feel deprived. He uses the example of the ice cream man. Greta says that with the cost of buying ice cream from the ice cream man, they could buy a whole pail. Lonny, though, hates that they can't give their children things because they don't have money.

Lonny raised the question of why poverty is finally being recognized as an important problem now, and why there is currently interest in solving it. He wondered why it hasn't been addressed before, and suggested that the current approaches aren't helping. He speculated about what a "professional expert" would do if forced to live in poverty. "They say to live on a budget. Okay. They say to take programs. Okay. Now what?" Lonny says that they have been in this lifestyle too long, and they don't know how to get out of it.