Monday, 12 December 2011

Dear Mayor and Councilors:

I never thought I'd find myself writing a letter to City Council. I rarely get that worked up about things and I'd be more likely try to find other solutions to whatever the issue happens to be. When it comes to things like increased city taxes, I have the means to pay more and I don't want services cut. I want beautiful places like River Landing, a new art gallery, better cycling infrastructure, a children's museum and updated play area for kids. To get all these things costs money. Simple as that.

I'm also extremely cognizant of the fact that whatever I do in my personal life has the potential to impact on my work and on my employer -- whether that be positive or negative. Especially when much of my work these days involves interaction with our elected officials. It would be easy for them to think my personal thoughts are also those of the Police Service.

In September, a review was occurring and councillors were debating the merits of various City services. Up for discussion was increasing the cost of the seniors & low income bus pass. Normally, I probably wouldn't have voiced an opinion either way. But at this same time, I was busy working my way through the challenges of the Saskatoon Food Basket Challenge and I felt compelled to share my experience in learning of the value of a $5 bill.

Although I did get some very positive responses from a few of the councilors, in the end my letter didn't have much effect. In last week's final budget deliberations they voted to increase the cost of the pass from $21 to $25 per month.

For interest's sake, here's my letter dated September 26.

I’m writing this letter as Shelley Ballard-McKinlay. Not as Inspector Shelley Ballard. These are my own words, thoughts, feelings and are in no way meant to represent the Saskatoon Police Service.

From September 13-19, I was one of 13 participants in the Food Basket Challenge. Our challenge was to live off the contents of a food basket from the Saskatoon Food Bank for one week. The basket typically consists of 2-3 days worth of food, but many clients make it last much longer than that. Clients can only go to the Food Bank once every two weeks.

We were also allowed the use of only five pantry items (out of a choice of 12 items such as flour, coffee, tea, sugar, ketchup, mustard, etc.) and could spend only an additional $5 on food. Accepting food from family or friends was not allowed.

Our limited options and nearly complete lack of choice was very, very difficult for all of us. For myself, this lack of choice manifested itself in a total obsession with food both during the week and for at least a week or more prior to the Challenge. I religiously rationed my food and thought long and hard about what I was going to spend my $5 on, calculating the costs of items down to the penny. I purchased a ½ dozen eggs and 1L of milk for $3.41 and then carefully hoarded my remaining change to buy one peach at the Farmer’s Market for $1.22. (Considering myself quite privileged, I would normally not even think twice about how I spend $5 or $10 or $20+ dollars. Some of us admitted that we didn’t have a clue how much a piece of fruit costs – we just go and buy it!)

As participants, we were struggling to complete the Challenge. Many people felt too tired to work properly. Some were unable to complete the Challenge. People with families found it particularly difficult. And yet, we were the lucky ones. We had jobs and warm houses and transportation. Once the Challenge was over, we could restock our refrigerators, eat out in restaurants and enjoy the full range of food options.

People who live in poverty 365 days of the year are not so fortunate. Some of them responded to the participant’s blog posts on the Food Basket Challenge website (, telling about their experiences and feelings, and it made me very aware of how difficult it is to cope on an extremely limited budget because you have no choices.
Do you feed your children or yourself? Do you buy medicine using the money you have budgeted for food? Do you buy a bus pass or pay the telephone bill? These are not valid choices – they’re desperate measures.

Here are just a few other things I learned during the Challenge week:
  • 44% of low-income households include at least 1 working adult;
  •  Full-time minimum wage pays almost $16,000 below the poverty line for a family of four;
  • Social assistance doesn’t cover the cost of affordable housing. The 2010 Saskatoon rental allowance was $625 for a family of four, yet the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment is $934;
  • Social assistance provides $255 per month to cover food, clothing, travel, personal and household items for an adult. The amount is the same for a single parent and one child!

Given the above information I know, better than ever before, that it would be an extreme hardship for low-income individuals and families to have to spend another $5 per month, per person, on transit.

You all have a choice to make in the coming months. I emphasize it is a CHOICE. This is something that my fellow Challengers and I did not have from September 13-19. And something that low income people don’t have each and every day.

I ask that you choose to keep the low-income subsidy for transit users. It is one small item in a very large budget, but it will make an enormous difference to individuals and families living in poverty and struggling to survive.

Respectfully submitted,

Shelley Ballard-McKinlay

1 comment:

  1. Shelley you have been doing so much great work in the community as well as being invloved in the Food Basket Challenge. As a person living way below the poverty line it is hard to make ends meet when rent, food etc. is continually going up. But now people have to worry about paying more for the discounted bus pass. This not only effects low income but people who are on the border line or just a little over. That includes seniors who live on a pension that does not increase according to the cost of living. What will it take to show all 3 levels of government that the poor are penalized enough just trying to get by on what we have without increasing everything in site. How is it fair that the rich get richer on the backs of the poor every single time?