A Desperate Plea For Help From MPP McGarry

The following is a copy of a correspondence I have sent to my local Member of Provincial Parliament today, with the hope of opening a dialogue on poverty and housing in Waterloo region, and to find reasonable and immediate solutions.

Attn: Kathryn McGarry, MPP, Cambridge

498 Eagle Street North
Cambridge
N3H1C2

Re: Poverty, Affordable Housing, and Bureaucracy

Dear Ms McGarry,

I hope this letter finds you well. If you will excuse the length of my correspondence, I would like to tell you my story, and afterward, ask you four specific questions, the answers to which I’m hoping you will address in some way.

I have been a resident of Cambridge for my entire 43 years of life, and in that time I have known success and happiness. But I must admit that it has been some time since I enjoyed those parts of life. I suffer with mental health challenges; specifically treatment-resistant clinical depression, social anxiety, and PTSD. I received these diagnoses approximately seven years ago, following a suicide attempt, the result of which was a lengthy stay in Cambridge Memorial Hospital’s Mental Health ward. Since that time, I have struggled to survive in the face of growing challenges. Soon after my release from the hospital, I was approved for coverage through the Ontario Disability Support Program, and have been receiving Disability Benefits as my sole income ever since.

I am a quiet man, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink alcohol, I abide the law and do what I can to help my neighbours. But solitude and loneliness are constants in my life.

As I’m sure you’re aware, Disability Benefits are a mere pittance and do not allow one to live a dignified life. (I receive the basic housing and living expenses benefit as well as a special diet allowance owing to a recent diabetes diagnosis.)

Upon release from the hospital, it took some time for me to find a housing situation that was both affordable and safe. But I did manage, seven years ago, to find suitable accommodations. I live in a small two-bedroom apartment in Preston, and I pay $621 per month, plus electricity.  My current living situation leaves very little left in my budget – after accounting for all of my obligations – for food, clothing, and other essentials. But it has, up until recently, been liveable with vigilance and help from other community resources.

However, I was recently informed by my current landlord that the property on which I live is being sold. And after undergoing the acute inconvenience of hosting dozens of potential buyers and real estate agents through my home over the course of several weeks, I have received notice that an offer was made to purchase the property with the condition that myself and the occupant of another unit be evicted, on the grounds that the buyer wishes to move his family into the units.

I am assured, by Waterloo Region Community Legal Services, that this is perfectly legal. To clarify, I now understand that the law (Ontario Landlord Tenant Act) allows a buyer to evict a tenant with 60 days notice, and a payment equal to one month’s rent and that there is no recourse available to the tenant. If you’ll pardon the repetition, it is within the law to throw a disabled person out of their home for no other reason than that someone with the financial means has decided they’d like to live there instead. It makes no difference that I’ve never once been late with my rent payments, or that I’ve never had any kind of conflict with my landlord, neighbours, or the municipality. It makes no difference that I volunteer what time I can to help with poverty activist groups in the region, or that I play by all the rules.

To any reasonable person, the above would be offensive enough, but knowing that I have no recourse, I’ve begun searching for a new home. And I expect you know what I’ve found. My search has been hampered by a rental market that is now priced well out of my extremely limited and unforgiving income. I invite you to browse the ‘Apartments and Condos’ section of the ‘Kitchener Area’ Kijiji listings. You will find that the average price for a one-bedroom unit is more than my total monthly income. To be clear, I have few choices. I’m faced with applying for apartments that are laughably inadequate or are entirely unaffordable. What accommodations I’ve been able to find, of course, are also sought after by hundreds, and perhaps thousands of other people in the region who are facing the same dilemma. Though most of those people are abled and employed. They have incomes well above mine, and while my credit rating isn’t terrible, it certainly isn’t good enough to compete with all of those people. I hesitate to use the word discrimination, but that is what it amounts to. Any landlord, when given the choice between a gainfully employed person and a disabled person, is going to choose the lesser risk.

I would hope you can hear the frustration in my words, if not by now, then certainly with the next part of this story.

There are famously advertised community supports available to me. ODSP is one of those supports. Lutherwood and Waterloo Region Community Housing are also intended to help people in my situation. But I’m writing this today to tell you that they are wholly inadequate. Of the three organizations I’ve listed here, Lutherwood-Coda is the only group that seems willing to help. They have offered to grant me funds to cover the last month’s rent deposit required by most landlords, and this is a huge help providing I can find a landlord willing to rent to me. Where all of this falls flat, is the point at which the two organizations that exist solely to support the disabled and those with incomes below the poverty line. I would hope that you’re aware of the difficulties in finding housing through WRCH, owing to the scarcity of affordable housing and the number of people seeking help. The estimated wait time for housing through them (for a one-bedroom apartment) is six years.

Please read that last sentence again.

I have to find suitable housing by January 31 of this year. If I were dependent on them to find me a solution, I would be homeless for six years, possibly a great deal longer. Now, they do offer “urgent status” to people who are already homeless, but I do certainly hope I’m not alone in seeing the flaw in that policy. Of course, this isn’t really a policy problem, is it? It’s a much bigger problem than that.

Next is the utter lack of regard and assistance provided by the Ontario Disability Support Program. Before I go on, I want to point out, as clearly as I can, that – like all other recipients of Disability Benefits – I did not ask for this disease. I did not put myself in this situation. And I have done everything required of me by ODSP, my doctors, and the law. Yet, an ODSP representative has told me outright that they will not offer any extra support, whether financial or otherwise, to assist with this situation. A situation that is utterly beyond my control.

Local poverty advocates and mental health peer support workers have told me that there are potential benefits that ODSP could offer to help with the costs of moving and to boost my monthly income. And when I ask why they would summarily dismiss my request when there are programs or funds they can offer, I’m told it’s because that’s their standard operating procedure. To deny requests for help as a matter of course, and to capitulate only when the person in need fights against the denial in whatever limited way they can, and often not even then. To remind you, I am disabled. Though you may find my deportment impressive, my limitations are real, and they are severe. But what of those who don’t have the ability to express themselves as I do? What of those who have no one to advocate on their behalf? This system – these systems are failing us wholesale.

To pile on top, it bears noting that Grand River Transit, bafflingly, still refuses to offer reduced fares for the disabled. Which currently affects me to a large extent, as I now must travel far to attend viewings for apartments wherever I can find them, hurting my budget even further. Why are this region’s services so discriminatory to those in the lowest income bracket?

Now, we’ve come to the four questions I hope you will address:

  1. In what way must a person live to elicit the government support we’re entitled to by law when the bureaucracy of service actively works to deny those supports? How should I have conducted myself to avoid this situation? The rules are supposed to be clear and navigable, but after seven years, I’ve found them to be utterly unavailable and (perhaps) deliberately convoluted.

  2. How is it legal for a person, by virtue of their wealth, to throw someone out of their home on a whim? Whether disabled or not, shouldn’t we have a right to be secure in our own homes?

 

  1. What are you willing to do to find and implement reasonable and immediate solutions to these problems that far too many people in your constituency are suffering through? Will you wash your hands of the problem in the same way ODSP representatives do? In the way Mayor Doug Craig does? The way Regional Council does? Or will you accept responsibility for the way our city and region treat its most vulnerable citizens and work quickly to help us?

 

  1. And finally, after reading all of this, and understanding what I face, can you please tell me just what the hell I’m supposed to do? As I am at a loss and am in danger of crisis and relapse.

I turn to you as a last ditch effort to heave this government off its laurels and inspire someone, anyone to take these problems seriously. I don’t know what you can do, nor do I know how to solve any of it myself. I’m just a disabled citizen who is drowning in poverty while my government sits by and watches. And I’m fed up.

I await your response.

With respect,

 

Martin J. Clemens

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World Suicide Prevention Day – 2016

It’s been 2000 days since the last time I tried to commit suicide.  That wasn’t the first time – in fact, it was the third time.  But it was the only attempt that involved the authorities, and it was the attempt that landed me in a Secure Mental Health Ward.  It was also my most successful attempt; March 21, 2011 was the day I almost died by my own hand.

I was confined to the hospital for five weeks following that episode.  I’m told I remained in a catatonic state for three days after; I don’t remember much of those first three days.  I had taken a massive overdose of pain medication. And it took that long for whatever pharmaceutical measures they undertook to bring me back around to reality.  I do remember a doctor asking how I felt about not succeeding in my attempt.  And I still possess a vague recollection of mumbling in response, “there’s always tomorrow.”  In retrospect, that’s probably why they decided to keep me in the secure ward.  And I’m quite certain I wouldn’t be here to write this 2000 days later, had I not been “committed” that day.

Of course, that’s not the whole story.  For each time I’ve tried to sneak out the back door of life, there have been countless fleeting impulses to lurch in front of a bus, or toss myself into a freezing river.  And there have been too many cravingly intense moments of suicidal conviction.

When being assessed for clinical depression, one endures a barrage of standard questions, and one of those questions is, inevitably, “how often do you think of suicide?” My answer for that question has been, for many years now…“I never stop.”  Even since being “treated”, suicidal thoughts are still more familiar to me than is comfortable.  It never goes away.

That’s called mental illness.  That’s what comes of untreated chronic depression.  That’s the product of putting on that mask of normalcy for decades, not letting any but those closest to you have the slightest glimpse of the pain you feel, day in and day out.

You might read this and wonder why I didn’t ask for help.  You might question why I didn’t reach out.  Why I didn’t recognise, in myself, such an obvious need for assistance.  And you might not understand how complicated those questions really are.  There are so many reasons.  There are so many doubts.  So many ways a sick mind can trick a person into believing that they deserve what they feel.  Or, moreover, that they don’t deserve help.  And that help doesn’t help anyway.  Even now, medicated and psychoanalysed, I still harbour those same thoughts.

We live in a world chock full of social cues that tell people in pain that the right thing to do is to just rub some dirt on it and walk it off.  It’s easy to believe that this is a world without understanding, without compassion – for a lot of people, it really is.  Mental illness, especially depression, makes it too easy for us to overlook the caring hands and kind words that surround us.  It makes it second nature for us to deny the joys of life, and to commit ourselves to misery and loneliness.

2000 days ago I almost ended my life.  It’s just coincidence that this anniversary falls on World Suicide Prevention Day, but I’ll forgive you for thinking it serendipitous.  My story isn’t uncommon.  The details are unique, but the destination and the cause are much too familiar for far too many people.  I wrote this hoping to add to the conversation already started by so many people suffering through mental illness and its fallout.  I don’t want well-wishes or pity.  I want awareness, I want real help made available from real mental health resources in every city around the planet.  I want a cure for mental illness.  Those things are attainable, through conversation and compassion.  But if I could ask anything of you, my reader, it would be this:

Be kind to those you love, and to everyone; be there for those you know are hurting; and, please, don’t keep your pain a secret.

Visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention and Bell Let’s Talk to learn ways to start the conversation, and to help those around you who may be in danger.

The Slow Demise of Martin J. Clemens

Those reading this are no doubt fully aware, by now, of the recent disappearance of my former blog, martinjclemens.com.  I didn’t make any kind of deal, big or small, about its closure.  In fact, I didn’t say a word about it to anyone.  That wasn’t by accident.

Those reading this likely also know about my personal troubles; that I’m consistent only in being inconsistent; that I tend to be unstable, in every sense of the word; that I live in a precarious state, both financially and emotionally; and that I often take things to heart which should not be taken to heart.

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Amazing fMRI “Study” Not What It Seems

The following was originally posted on MJC (February 2014), and I felt that it should probably survive the demise of that blog since it clears the air on a topic many find important.

Did you see headlines like this over the last few days?  “The Woman Who Can Will Herself Out Of Her Body” or “Scientists unlock mystery of out-of-body experiences (aka astral trips)”, or even “Out-of-body experiences are the result of unusual brain activity, study claims”?

If you just read the headline and not the linked articles, you might have gotten the wrong impression.  Actually, even if you did read the article you may still have gotten it mixed up, but that’s not really your fault.

All three of those headlines, and a host of others, refer to a “study” published 10 February, 2014 in the science magazine Frontiers, titled Voluntary out-of-body-experience, an fMRI study.[1]  The story broke via a Popular Science Magazine article by Douglas Main, titled The Woman Who Can Will Herself Out Of Her Body.

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What is – and isn’t – AI?

The following is an excerpt from the book I’ve been working on for the better part of a year.  I may or may not finish it (as is both my prerogative and my style), but recent discussions elsewhere have prompted me to post this here, for the time being.

AI-lowres-300x285What it is:

Artificial Intelligence is a complicated topic, and as such the pursuit of Artificial Intelligence is equally complicated.  A complicated pursuit of complexity, one could say.  So what then is Artificial Intelligence?

It does us little good to provide a single definition, as there are many.

  1. The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.
  2. An area of computer science that deals with giving machines the ability to seem like they have human intelligence.
  3. The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.

Or, from the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence: “the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying thought and intelligent behavior and their embodiment in machines.”

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I Live In Poverty. This isn’t a choice.

I live in poverty.  This isn’t a choice.  This isn’t where I thought I’d be when my 6th grade teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I never imagined I’d be sitting here alone, wondering where my next meal might come from, feeling both gratitude and more shame than I knew was possible for the generous donation of $60 I received from a friend so that I could buy enough food for myself and my cats to last the rest of the month.

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If you make racist comments on my social media posts, I will treat you like a racist…because it is 2015.

Dramatic Musings

This has been a tough 24 hours in social media. In the same day our province made a commitment to admit and help re-settle 1500 immigrants and refugees, and there was a horrific terror attack in Paris. Many have argued that a humanitarian effort is worthwhile for the refugees who desperately need safe haven. They also find the commitment to be worthwhile as we are a declining, aging, under-educated province desperately in need of an influx of people. Unfortunately many do not agree.  The trouble seems to be that this particular group is brown and in many cases they follow the teachings of Islam. To compound the issue, the attack in Paris (and Beirut and Bhagdad this past few days by the way), perpetrated by the very people these refugees are seeking asylum from, has sensitized a certain demographic of people already suspicious of those who look different. The result…

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