Colleen Boudreau lies awake at night worrying not about her mortgage or car payments, but how she’s going to put food in her five-year-old daughter’s belly or clothes on her back.
She earns around $1,500 a month on disability welfare, which leaves her – on good months – $50 leftover.
“Sometimes I fear I can’t properly support my own daughter,” said Boudreau, who lives in a subsidized housing unit in the Downtown Eastside and is moving this week to nearby Strathcona.
She said it would “take a lifetime” to save the money to visit family back East, and little things like hockey and ballet lessons are out of the question.
“The stress of that makes you tired,” she said.
Boudreau is one of 500,000 British Columbians – or 13 per cent of the population – living in poverty, which in Vancouver equates to an hourly income of $16 or less, according to a report published by the Canadian Centre For Policy Alternatives.
Boudreau says she “couldn’t survive” outside the DTES.
“Even with subsidized rent, I couldn’t live anywhere else,” she said. “If you try to (move) … it’s even worse because it’s a reminder of what you can’t have, or what you will not be, or that you don’t fit in.”
“I can’t get out of the cycle of poverty, I am stuck in it for life,” said Boudreau.
Deborah Irvine, vice president of Community Impact and Investments with the United Way in Vancouver, said the issues surrounding poverty are complex, but have to do with access to nutritious food, affordable and safe housing, and an ability to budget.
Children, the elderly, immigrants and refugees are at particular risk to poverty, she said.
“I think there’s a tendency for people to blame (those) who are poor and to look at it as a sort of never ending continuum … Even in poor neighbourhoods there are rich community assets that people can draw upon.”
Irvine said investing in children, by giving them a safe and stable home life and supportive schooling environment, is one of the best ways to end the cycle of poverty by giving at-risk kids “a strong start.”
With files from Stig Nielsen