Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hard fall to streets after lifetime of working
Jan. 18, 2008

Not even 18 months ago, all of this would have been unimaginable. He’d been 10 years at the same job, and 10 years in the same apartment. He’d never had problems finding work.
But then came the fateful day in October 2006, when Blaine got into a heated discussion with his boss over whether he deserved a raise. It turned into a fight, and Blaine got fired.
It took him a scant six months to blow through what little savings he had. Six months to wear out the patience of his long-time landlord. Six months to discover that nobody wanted to hire him anymore, and to end up homeless for the first time in his life.
It’s been a humiliating and hard ride down. He’s found a little work here and there, but a 52-year-old guy with health problems just isn’t the first pick for the kind of jobs he’s experienced in: truck-driving for the most part, and jobs with moving companies. He recently found out he’s got diabetes and vascular problems, which are causing so many problems with his legs that he can barely walk a block.
“Who’s going to hire me when they see me come in limping?” asks Blaine. “They take one look at me and say, ‘HOW old are you?’ Ninety per cent of the time, that’s what happens. It’s discrimination, but what can I do about it?”
Add in a home address at the Salvation Army shelter, and things go from bad to worse. “People see 525 Johnson St. on your application, and they immediately figure there must be something wrong with you.”
Blaine fought hard to collect unemployment insurance after he got fired, but lost that battle. So he spent what savings he had and got himself on income assistance. His monthly cheque is $610, with $550 of it paid to the Salvation Army for room and board.
That leaves him $60 for the month. That won’t even buy a bus pass, so Blaine doesn’t roam too far afield anymore, especially with his poor circulation. I come across him standing on the sidewalk outside the Salvation Army, and he later tells me that’s where he passes most of his time.
“I wander back and forth in front of the place, maybe lie down in my room for a while. There ain’t much else I can do, because the farther I walk the more my leg aches,” says Blaine. “I don’t really want to be here, but I’ve got no choice.”
He’s grateful for his room at the Salvation Army, but it’s not exactly home. If he stretches out both arms, he can almost reach from one side of his room to the other, and the length of it can’t be much more than five metres. There’s no room for any of his stuff - stashed at a friend’s house and in danger of being tossed if he can’t find somewhere else for it soon.
Still, it’s a roof over his head, and beats the dorm rooms with 20 other guys where he first found shelter after losing his apartment. Those early days were rough for Blaine: “It was hard to adjust. You’re so scared that you don’t know what to think, and in those dorm rooms you’re pretty much on your own to work things out with whoever else is in there.”
He learned to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. Things have been better since he got his own room, but he feels guilty knowing that the reason that happened so quickly is because the man who used to have his room got kicked out for using drugs. “I know the guy, and things aren’t going good for him.”
Every now and then Blaine lands some work, but even that just seems to complicate things. For instance, he earned $60 a few months back, so now his welfare cheque is being cut by $20 for the next three months. It’s killing him.
His goal at the moment is to get himself on disability, which would at least let him earn up to $500 a month without any government clawbacks. It would also qualify him for subsidized housing, or at least a place on the wait list.
I ask him about his family, and he says he has two grown sons living in Alberta. They come to the Island once in a while to snowboard, but don’t visit him often. “I’m proud of both of them, but I don’t see them much,” he says.
When I ask about his efforts to find work, he starts to cry. He says the staff at Spectrum Job Search Centre know him as the guy who’s “always coming in” to see what jobs are available.
But the work he gets never seems to last for long, and the phone doesn’t ring very often. And so he logs another day on the sidewalk outside the Salvation Army, watching the world go by.
“It’s real weird to find myself in this situation, real weird,” says Blaine. “But I can’t do nothing about it except try to move on. That’s all I’m trying to do.”

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