Peg Sharing Circle - Exploring the Lived Experience of Poverty - Valerie Wolbert

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

"People look down on you because you're poor. They consider you to be a bum. The government puts constraints on you so you can't get out of poverty."

Valerie is the President of the Manitoba Chapter of People First, an organization for people with intellectual disabilities. She lives with her husband and her two cats.

Born with an intellectual disability, Valerie grew up in a foster family with two parents, two sisters, and a brother. She received her schooling in both Poplar Point and Portage la Prairie, with the last three years in a Special Education class. She found the social aspect of school difficult because other children picked on her because of her disability. When she was in the Special Education classes, she felt isolated from the other students.

When Valerie first entered the workforce, she lived with her mother in an apartment. Her mother took care of all the day-to-day details. As a result, she found the move to her own home difficult. Shortly after moving to her own place, she got sick and had to stay for a while in the Grace Hospital. In 1994, she met her first husband. Unfortunately, that marriage was short-lived: he was killed by the Indian Posse two years later. After that, she lived at the Salvation Army and then in a group home before getting her own home.

Valerie re-married and currently lives with her husband in a three-bedroom townhouse, which they rented in hopes of having a family. They didn't have a child and now find themselves in a home that is too expensive for them. Valerie is on disability and brings in about $1,300 per month. Her husband is only able to work about five hours per week. Despite their low income, their monthly housing costs total $925 in rent and utilities.

Valerie misses having a job and earning an income. She says that when she stopped working she felt that she wasn't worth anything. She didn't know where to go for help. She did get a part time job, but then the money was clawed back from her disability and her insurance. She had to pay a lot back to the government.

Valerie's health also concerns her, as she is having problems with the medical system. She hurt her shoulder two years ago and is just now getting an MRI. She feels that if she had money, she could go elsewhere for treatment; however, because she doesn't, she has to just wait.

Valerie has many recreational interests. She travels in her role with People First and enjoys that. She walks in the Manitoba Marathon once a year. However, her income limits which other activities she can participate in.