January 18, 2012
Surry Fleetwood NDP MLA Jagrup Brar issued a ‘Welfare Challenge’ to himself. He’s a week into trying to rent an apartment and pay for food on a budget of $610 a month. The budget is the same a single adult receives on welfare.
Brar said he was “in tears” last week over the challenge. According to Brar, “Living in poverty is hard and demoralizing. Looking for food makes your body tired.”
He took part in this challenge to raise awareness for “Raise the Rates.” Raise the Rates is a coalition of social groups that demands the B.C. government quickly raise welfare payments.
On Wednesday Brar went out looking for a place to stay assisted by a worker from Hyland House, a Surrey-based organization that runs a homeless shelter.
Brar had put together a list of possible rooms he could rent for the $375 government housing allowance, but was shocked at what he found.
“The first house had four little rooms and was a dirty and filthy looking old house,” said Brar.
He said the room available for rent had no laundry facilities and the landlord wanted $450 a month “for a place no one would want to stay for one day.”
The next home he visited was similar.
The whole experience was both heartbreaking and shocking, Brar said. “This was a room like a closet. It was three feet wide, seven feet long with a single bed in it occupying the whole space,” he said.
“You could barely step in and go straight to your bed. There was no window. The landlord told me the person who was going to occupy that room was a patient coming from hospital after an operation.
Brar continued: “It was unimaginable for me to hear that people have to chose to live in those kinds of places, tears started falling out of my eyes,” he said.
The room rented for $300/ month.
“The person who showed me that closet-like room owns 50 rooms. She is making $20,000 a month on the backs of the poor of B.C. with the help of the ministry. It’s unacceptable and immoral,” Brar said.
At last, he settled for staying in an illegal rooming house on 136A Street that was clean and has 7 other tenants. The spacious room rents for $400 a month, but he will only pay for the part of the month he will stay there.
“This is like a seven-star hotel compared to the other places,” he said.
On Wednesday, he went shopping for food, spending $32.87 for a variety of packaged foods including some milk, fruit, vegetables, bread and peanut butter.
Brar said he would continue his “Challenge” and stay in the Surrey rooming house for 16 days and then look for a place to live in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
After other expenses, Brar calculates he has about $70 left for food for the rest of the month.