Life on a dollar a month

It's fairly common to hear about people in poor countries living off a dollar a day. But one Yukon man is now living on a dollar a month.

It’s fairly common to hear about people in poor countries living off a dollar a day.

But one Yukon man is now living on a dollar a month.

Garth Brown recently picked up his social assistance benefit cheque for May and was shocked to find that it contained just $1.

“Nobody can believe it when I show it to them,” said Brown last week.

“They all make jokes, saying, ‘Don’t spend it all in one place.’ But it’s going to cost me more just to cash the damn thing.”

Brown’s social assistance benefit – after money he receives for shelter, utilities and prescription medicine – is supposed to be $360.

But money is often deducted based on any income that the individual is bringing in.

That can be anything from wages to maintenance payments, employment insurance, or pensions.

In Brown’s case, the amount was probably deducted because of training or education income.

Brown has been receiving social assistance for a long time, and used to receive an additional $250 a month (on top of the $360) as a disability benefit.

After a lifetime of physical labour and drinking, as well as five years addicted to drugs, the 56-year-old has a long list of physical ailments – diabetes, bleeding ulcers, high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hepatitis C, two crushed vertebrae, two slipped disks, a number of heart attacks and, apparently, a bullet in the head.

Last year, Brown decided to try to get off social assistance by going back to school.

Clean and sober now for 30 months and counting, Brown would like to become an additions councillor.

In September, Brown enrolled in a college preparation course at Yukon College.

He received funding from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and moved into the college dorms.

The problems began in December, when Brown failed one of his courses – something he attributes to health issues he was having.

Brown took the course over the next semester and ended up passing the second time around.

But in January, he was told by HRSDC that his funding was being cut, because he was taking the same course twice and had not informed them in writing.

The tuition and rent had already been paid for at the college, so Brown continued with his courses and tried to get back on social assistance.

He was denied social assistance in February and got back on assistance in March.

However, he was moved back to the most basic funding, without the additional disability funding.

Whenever someone leaves social assistance they’re taken off the books, according to Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living.

“We don’t hold a spot for you. So when you come back, you have to start over again.”

In March, Brown received a benefit cheque for $350. In April, it decreased to $45. And in May, he received just $1.

With his college preparation course successfully completed, Brown had to leave the “cheapest rent in town” at the college and moved into a tent.

Health and Social Services isn’t able to discuss individual cases, said Living.

But there are a number of reasons why a recipient’s benefit cheque might be diminished.

A client can actually owe social assistance, if they received funds in advance and also received funding for training.

Or, if they were in an emergency situation, additional funding could be provided with the understanding that they would pay it back.

Normally, issues like this would be discussed beforehand with a case manager.

“Every person has a case manager,” said Living.

“If you go off to school, I would presume that as you’re developing your plans, that you’re talking with your case manager, and that you would have a discussion about what the impacts would be.

“Ultimately, the goal of training is that they would become self-sufficient and would not require (social assistance).”

On May 2, Brown was accepted to the Vancouver College of Counsellor Training, to get an addictions worker certificate through distance education.

He’s still unsure where he’s going to get the $5,644 to cover tuition.

Contact Chris Oke at

chriso@yukon-news.com