Welland family turns to food banks, churches to make ends meet
Christopher Dean had a decent job working as a security guard, a nice two-bedroom apartment, and what he described as a good life until he was 34 years old.
An injury to his spine changed all that.
“I have spinal problems going from my neck to my tailbone, so I haven’t been able to work for the last five to six years or so,” the Welland resident said.
Now, he lives in a single-bedroom apartment with his partner, Amanda Gibbard, and their 16-year-old son.
Both are unable to work for health reasons and on support from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), but the amount they get each month doesn’t cover both the rent and basic necessities like food.
As the cost of living in Niagara increases, so too does the price for things such as groceries.
After rent is paid (about $1,000), Dean said there is about $200 left over for living.
And that means Dean and Gibbard will eat once a day, or not at all so their son can eat three meals a day.
Dean said he tries to stretch dollars further, and the family buys $10 frozen meals from FreshCo or No Frills. Buying fresh meat or vegetables is too expensive, so they turn to food banks and community churches for help with food.
“Last year, a bag of milk was something like $4.50. Now that same bag of milk we used to buy is almost $7. Well, now I can’t drink any milk because it’s too freaking expensive,” Dean said.
Dean also can’t recall a time when ODSP recipients have received a significant increase.
“It’s gone up maybe a couple of bucks over the years, but not anything drastic because the cost of living goes up and the cost of food goes up.”
Dean said his family is facing possible eviction from their home and alleges his landlord wants to evict lower-income tenants in order to clear out the building and raise the rent.
There are also several issues Dean said he is struggling with and is waiting for a decision from the Landlord Tenant Board.
“We live with mice, roaches, bedbugs and no hot water. There’s no peace of mind.”
If they have to leave their home, there isn’t much choice.
“Basically, with us not behind able to afford anything, the next step is either living in a hotel or living in a tent on the ground,” Dean said.
He has been placed on Niagara Regional Housing’s emergency housing list, but he said that list is at least a two-year wait. Dean also said people like him who struggle face discrimination.
“When you’re homeless or say lower income than the rest … everybody else looks down on you thinking you’re some type of crackhead or something like that,” he said.
Marceli Luz, community engagement co-ordinator at the Hope Centre, said the food bank is seeing a significant increase in demand and more people are using it to make ends meet.
Visits in May (3,928) were 19 per cent higher than May 2021 (3,289). The number of children served in May this year increased 34 per cent, with 264 compared to 160 last year.
Lori Kleinsmith, health promoter at Bridges Community Health Centre, said the amount people are receiving from ODSP and Ontario Works has not seen a significant increase in several years and it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Some are left feeling stuck and sometimes living in abusive or unsanitary situations.
“They don’t want to lose what roof they have over their head or whatever it looks like because there is nothing out there for them,” she said.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: As the price of gas, groceries, and housing seem to be climbing higher each day, Niagara This Week reached out to see the impact on Welland residents.