Not every person asking for help fits the typical profile of someone in need.
Such is the case with Pam and her daughter, Tiffany, who on the surface appear to have everything in order. Tiffany is a 16-year-old private-school student who is showing a proclivity for certain subjects. And Pam, who is raising Tiffany primarily on her own, has what appears to be a good, solid job with the provincial government.
“You would think that kind of wage would be really reasonable, which it is,” Pam said. “But I’m barely keeping my head above water.”
Theirs is the type of story that rarely gets told. Pam (who asked that her last name not be used) and Tiffany are getting by, but not without difficulty. At this time of year, when dollars are in increasingly short supply, life is considerably more challenging.
“I still have my job and I have a roof over my head,” Pam said, noting that her budget doesn’t allows for “extras” such as cable television, dinners out, or trips to the movie theatre.
“I could get a second job, at $10 an hour, but then I wouldn’t be with my daughter. She needs me right now. She needs me to be here for her.”
Tiffany, who is in Grade 11, has autism. Though she’s technically high-functioning, Pam had to move her from public school, where she was struggling, into private school (the costs of which are covered by the government, Pam said).
Pam is quick to point out that she has help: Tiffany’s grandmother takes her overnight almost every Friday. But the bills keep piling up, and Pam is fearing the worst.
They have a rental house, but in order to heat the place, Pam recently had to borrow $400 from a friend. She’s managing to pay the majority of her bills each month, but little to no money is left over.
“I have to access food banks to meet our nutritional requirements,” Pam said. “I’m struggling paycheque-to-paycheque to cover all the bills and get groceries on the table.”
It wasn’t always this way for Pam and Tiffany.
At one point, not that long ago, renters were paying Pam $850 a month for the two-bedroom suite in the basement of her house, which she owned. After separating from her husband, Pam remortgaged to buy him out of his half, which amounted to more than $200,000. Pam does not receive monthly child support from her ex-husband, as per an agreement she signed at the time of the buyout.
Three years ago, heavy rain flooded her basement, forcing her tenants to relocate. Pam’s insurance broker determined that her perimeter drains were partially responsible. The insurance company told Pam they would not cover her repairs, on account of the pre-existing drain condition.
She eventually found a contractor who could fix the basement, but he sub-contracted the job to another worker, whose repair job — for which he was paid in full — reportedly did not satisfy municipal bylaws. Pam was forced to hire another contractor to make it right, using up every dollar at her disposal.
Credit cards were maxed, RRSPs were cashed and investments were dissolved, all in an effort to curb the tide, she said. “That whole situation took almost a year.”
By the time her basement was eventually repaired, Pam had difficulty finding new tenants. “I struggled valiantly,” she said.
She put the house up for sale, and when it didn’t attract buyers, she was forced to keep lowering the asking price. In the end, she wound up with a pittance. “When the house finally sold, the cheque I got for my house was $16.73.”
Pam was out of options. Eventually, a friend let Pam and Tiffany live in their basement suite, rent-free, until they found a place 2 1/2 months later. “I count my blessings every day and thank the stars for that friend.”
The goodwill of her friends continues — one friend recently gave Pam an artificial Christmas tree. But with no budget for Christmas presents, and the creditors coming, she isn’t sure when she will be out of debt.
Pam is managing to make meagre payments on one of her cards, which cuts into her grocery budget. Yet another credit-card company is initiating legal action, however.
“I just don’t have any money left. I don’t know where else I’m going to get the money for it.”
Despite her current situation, Pam is vowing to continue, and is bent on staying upbeat about the future.
“We’ll carry on as best we can,” she said.
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