If she had a few more dollars a month, Sylvie Meunier says she would splurge on a meal out, maybe buy herself a piece of clothing that is brand new or treat her granddaughter to a gift.
Living on $896-a-month in social assistance, all of those things are luxuries that she cannot afford, says the 51-year-old Pierrefonds resident who suffers bipolar disorder, diabetes, sleep apnea and eczema.
“It’s really a struggle to make ends meet,” Meunier said. “It affects your self esteem. It’s depressing. You don’t have the income to do what other people do.”
And, Meunier said, she is a little luckier than other people with mental or physical disabilities on welfare because she has a coveted unit in a West Island social housing building, Farley House on Pierrefonds Blvd. Her rent is $328 a month, about half of the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the West Island.
But now several West Island organizations have banded together to lobby the provincial government to help people like Meunier by increasing welfare payments by 10 per cent for single Quebec residents living with a handicap.
Members of West Island Citizen Advocacy (WICA) and the West Island Mental Health Table are now circulating a petition online www.assnat.qc.ca/en/exprimez-votre-opinion/petition/Petition-3339/index.html asking the provincial government for an increase to put Quebec benefits on par with Ontario benefits for the same group.
Pierre Marsan, the West Island MNA for Robert Baldwin riding, has agreed to deliver the petition to the Quebec government in January.
“We need to have thousands and thousands of signatures if we want the government to listen,” said Mary Clare Tanguay, WICA’s director of West Island Citizen Advocacy.
“Everyone should be entitled to a basic quality of life.”
Tanguay said disabled people unable to work receive just over $10,000 a year, considerably less than the poverty line, which in 2009 was $18,421 for a single Quebec resident.
And over past few years, she said, the rising price of food has made life more difficult, especially since housing is also expensive in the West Island. She said there is not enough social housing or group homes.
Many are forced to share or relocate downtown for cheaper rent, a move not necessarily advised since they end up leaving communities they know and a support network they have in place.
Giselle Doucet, a community worker with one of WICA’s social housing programs said there are programs to help, including the one she runs that doubles and triples up disabled adults to cut costs.
But she said what sets the disabled apart from other people on welfare is that it is a long-term situation. “These are people who will never have an opportunity to get out of the system,” Doucet said.
As for Meunier, she continues to stretch her dollars as best as she can.
This week, she loaded up on fresh fruit and vegetables from Moisson Montreal, the city food bank, an end-of-month lifesaver organized by a community worker who brings the food to her Pierrefonds building.
Next week she will stock up her freezer with sale items when a volunteer drives her to the grocery store, a once-a-month trip. And, for entertainment, she said, there are collective-kitchen events and art classes at her building — as well, as the used television she recently acquired after three years without.
“It’s hard at times,” she said. “That’s the way it is when you have an illness and it makes it impossible to work.”