Broke and Binning

MLA Jagrup Brar looks for bottles or things to sell. He’s broke.

Jagrup Brar MLA Goes Binning Video

For the last week I’ve been watching Jagrup hold onto his last few dollars, going back to his SRO to cook for himself when he’s hungry, instead of buying a hot dog or a slice of pizza. What do people do when they’re broke? They start selling things they value or need – their medication, their grandmlother’s ring. They panhandle or beg. I know the overwhelming flood of feelings – frustration, panic and powerlessness – of being flat broke, and never want to experience it again. I’ve collected cigarette butts at bus stops in the middle of the night. Eventually desperation takes hold and you don’t care who sees you. But in some situations, you HAVE to have money, you can’t be broke if you have a kid or a pet. And everyone has a different version of what is honourable and what is humiliating. Some would rather steal than stand in a food line, and vice versa.

Jagrup was introduced to the Tuesday afternoon group at VANDU; when he asks to borrow money from the members who are going to get welfare on Wednesday, everybody laughed! It’s the 21st Century, but the class system still exists unofficially, with some marginalized groups seen as the Untouchables. They’re Vancouver’s Untouchables – the acronym VANDU stands for Drug Users. We told them Jagrup was binning on Saturday, and asked for experienced volunteers to show him how. The 2 who agreed were Scott Short, a father of 2 kids in foster care, who needs busfare to visit them, and Mervyn SmallLegs, who bins every day from 7:30 ’til dusk to pay for food, busfare and cigarettes. These men are hard-working “Front Line Eco-Warriors”, the name David from the Street Market gives them.

The weather was nasty at 9 am Saturday, “couldn’t make up its mind if it was going to rain or snow” Hugh from VANDU said. Despite this, Scott and Mervyn show up ready to take Jagrup binning. Scott has a stick for poking garbage bags to determine if they contain bottles or cans. The first time I saw a binner with a hockey stick, and no skates or equipment, I asked “where’s the game?” Now I know why he carried a hockey stick. Mervyn has on a plastic rain poncho and is wheeling a child’s stroller to carry his finds.

We headed east in the alleys, tailed by a cameraman from Shaw Cable. There was no dumpster DIVING, they were tall enough to be able to reach over the sides. We picked up a pair of shoes in good condition which Mervyn said he could sell at the street market for $2, and a plastic garbage can he was going to ask $5 for. They displayed what they’d collected at a press conference Raise the Rates had organized for 11 am. In dollar value the empties were worth less than minimum wage, and Jean Swanson made the argument that the Welfare System criminalizes a person on IA who bins for extra money, because of the clawback rule that says all income must be declared and deducted from the next check! Scott told us “binning keeps me out of jail” by providing him with money so he doesn’t have to do crime. This is PEANUTS compared to white collar crime like embezzlement, insider trading and bribery, yet the jails are full of poor people doing what they have to do to survive, and very few Conrad Blacks.

by Diane Wood

Top 2 reasons to raise welfare rates

On Saturday, Jan. 22, the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council organized a free lunch at the Balmoral Hotel for Balmoral and Regent Hotel residents. Jagrup Brar, the MLA from Surrey who has accepted the welfare challenge was there. A few of us went around to the tables where people were eating and asked people why they thought welfare rates should be raised. These are what they said:

• Wouldn’t have to stand in food lines.
• Could get a fridge and hotplate and have more food and security.
• Wouldn’t have to do risky things to survive.
• Could live in a healthier space.
• Could get out of DTES. I want to live in a quiet residential area.
• Price of clothing is going up and the rates are not.
• Food.
• Transportation. I have to walk everywhere.
• I can’t afford Tylenol.
• I can’t afford to eat with my medication.
• Self worth and confidence “so you don’t feel like a schumck all day”.
• self reliance.
• Food ran out. The cheque doesn’t take you all the way through the month.
• $200 (for support) This is the 21st century; people are starving here in North America. Ridiculous.
• Can’t live off it; food’s too expensive.
• We have no shower, no washroom, you have to share with everyone on the floor; you want to quit drugs or alcohol, you can’t in this condition.
• You run out of money in a week or 2; I pay $450 for rent.
• Cause everything costs money.
• So I would have to share a bathroom that has crap on the floor and shower and toilets that are always backed up.
• People need nutritious food.
• It would help avoid crises.
• I could afford furniture.
• Its hard to live and eat properly.
• A lot of diseases require better quality food.
• Its hard to pay the rent.
• Can’t get enough food.
• Can’t buy clothes or anything.
• No personal life as a result ( of low welfare rates).
• Can’t travel to see family (mother is sick in Kelowna).
• The rats are about this (gestures a distance of about 1 foot) long.

Over the last 2 weeks, we asked this same question to other gatherings of DTES residents and in some cases asked them to prioritize the top 10 reasons for raising welfare. So far the top 2 reasons to raise welfare are:

1) we wouldn’t have to rely on food banks and lines
2) so families won’t have children apprehended


CBC refuses to let low income people enter their building

For immediate release
December 2, 2011


Eastside residents went to the CBC foodbank day today with two messages: We want Justice so we don’t need Charity, and we want the CBC to spend more time covering ways to end poverty and so we don’t have to spend so much time alleviating it.

“We hope the food bank raises lots of money today,” said Roland Clarke, the event’s MC. “If they raise half a million dollars that would be good. That would work out to about $2.78 for every person on welfare and disability in BC. The problem is: People in poverty need more than $2.78 worth of food each year. We need justice.”

After skits and speeches a small delegation from the group went into the CBC to present a donation and a giant thank you card on air. The card said: “Justice Now to End the Need for Charity.” “Thank you CBC. Now make an even bigger difference by providing more coverage on a poverty reduction plan and higher welfare rates.” This is when security guards prevented the six people in the delegation from entering the main room where other members of the public were participating in the radio show.

Before the delegation tried to enter the CBC with its message of “justice so we don’t need charity,” Tina the Charity Turkey also made an appearance, calling for a new group, Turkeys United for Justice so we don’t need Charity. “Welfare is too low,” said Tina, “It needs to be at least $1300 a month so people can pay rent, buy groceries and take transit to look for a job.”

People who donate to the food bank need to do more, said the Turkey. “They can tell the Premier to raise welfare rates so people can buy me with their own money, or preferably buy ham.”

Over and over speakers said that the $610 a month welfare rate for rent, utilities, food, transit, clothes, cleaning supplies, phone and other necessities is not enough to live on.

“Most of what they give you at the foodbank, cans and packaged goods, are past expired, sometimes a year or more,” said Richard Cunningham.

“You have to spend hours in line and then if you live in a SRO and you don’t have a kitchen, you can’t use half of what they give you,” explained another food bank user, Laura Shaver.

Aiyanas Ormond of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users added, “Anyone who’s used a food bank knows that the process is often frustrating, undignified and even humiliating. As a stopgap measure it’s bad enough, but when this becomes institutionalized it becomes another part of the grinding violence of poverty that struggling individuals and families have to endure.”

“It’s the indignity of standing for hours in line for help and then not even being able to use the food they give you,” said Brian Miles. I know I’m in a tough situation, but at times at the foodbank, I’ve felt really humiliated.”

While outside, the group handed out bandaid shaped leaflets asking everyone to email urging the Premier to raise welfare rates to $1300 a month. They also asked passers-by to fill out a budget for living on $610 per month for all expenses including looking for work.

Contact: Aiyanas Ormond: 604-315-8766; Dave Diewert: 778 708-5006

Update on the DTES Local Area Planning Process

CCAP is working closely with the DTES Neighbourhood Council (DNC), who is a co-chair of a DTES Local Area Planning Process (the LAPP).

Learn more about the LAPP here at DNC’s LAPP website.

See the motion from council that made the DNC co-chair here.

See the city’s website that has info about the LAPP here.

See the terms of reference that took about 8 months to negotiate here. One of DNC’s main goals is to ensure the LAPP stays on track with this terms of reference.

Get involved DTES residents! Call Wendy 604-839-0379 for more info.

“Homeless” Jagrup Brar MLA on New Year’s Day

W2TV: Jagrup Brar MLA Welfare Challenge (Day 1) from Sid Tan on Vimeo.

Coast Salish Territory, Surrey BC – Jagrup Brar is starting New Year’s Day 2011 on the streets looking for shelter and a warm meal as he begins the MLA Welfare Challenge. Brar, MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, will have just $610, the welfare rate for an individual, to cover his expenses of housing, food, personal hygiene, transit and other expenses. His month of poverty began at Surrey Central Skytain at 11am New Year’s Day.

Lending Brar moral support at a media briefing were several dozen supporters including family members Rajwant (wife), Noor, Fateh (children) and sister-in-law Baljit Brar. Raise the Rates and a number of Surrey Partners will work together to provide and advise. They will ensure he has a valuable and insightful experience, learning first hand about poverty, inequality and “being on welfare.”

Raise the Rate’s statement on Jagrup’s Brar’s month living on welfare rates: “Raise the Rates recognizes Jagrup Brar’s commitment in living on only $610 for one month. We also realize that this will not be the same experience as a person who actually lives on welfare. He will start the challenge in good health and with adequate clothes; and his month on welfare rates will end after a month.”