When Natalie Salvino, her spouse and two children came to the Shuswap from the Lower Mainland in 2016, the move held such promise.
They liked the area and found a place in Blind Bay. Her husband worked out of town while she took care of their home and children. The hope was to have a hobby farm one day.
Now, everything has changed. She and her spouse split up. She needed to find a place she could afford quickly and ended up in an older, one-bedroom house heated with wood in a “really rural” area of the South Shuswap.
Her children are 14 and five. Child support is entangled in a legal struggle.
Although Salvino has been working at a book store for more than a year, a job she loves, she took a medical leave recently.
Stress has taken its toll on her health. She will receive 55 per cent of her income on leave.
“I can barely manage living on minimum wage, that was really hard. But now I have no idea.”
School has been difficult for her son. She was getting a call about once a week to come and pick him up.
Then there have been the typical monthly colds. Although her employer was understanding, having to keep leaving work to look after him was problematic.
Her home is within the boundaries for Carlin school, but she was not able to find child care in the South Shuswap.
She says the only way she was able to go cross-boundary for a school closer to child-care facilities was to request French Immersion – not really a good fit for her or her son.
It was decided half days would work better for him. Currently he attends after-school care from 2 p.m. at $300 per month, a price she has trouble affording.
Now she must find and finance care for a longer day.
She says the bottom line is she would make more money on social assistance than working at a minimum wage job when child care and rent are factored in.
One option: “Stay at home, quit my job, let him go to Carlin and pick him up every day.”
She added: “I don’t want to go on assistance…I’ve had to go to the church for food and I’m working full-time. There are no extras and no fun, so what’s the point.”
She said during her hunt for accommodation closer to Salmon Arm, “I think the average I see for a two-bedroom is $1,700. I saw a one-bedroom yesterday for $1,400. There’s a two-bedroom in Canoe for $1,600.”
Although a subsidy is available to low-income earners, she says the cap used to calculate it is well below the actual cost of renting.
Food costs are high and, where she lives now, she must shell out a lot for gas. And heat.
“I just went through $100 of wood in seven days. I don’t know how I’m going to heat the house, I don’t know how I’m doing it anymore.”
Salvino sees other women with more than one child looking for two-bedroom accommodation.
“We’re all looking for places that are going to take children; we’re not worthy of that, we know there is not going to be a place for us…I’m not sure how society expects that to work.”
Patrice LeBlanc has lived in Salmon Arm for 11 years and owns her home, but home ownership has not produced financial security.
She has two children, ages 12 and 15.
Since childhood, LeBlanc has suffered from mental illnesses including attention deficit disorder, depression and memory issues.
She is able to work at part-time jobs, so she earns money as a substitute newspaper carrier as well as pet sitting and dog walking.
Her partner died when her youngest was 13 months old.
She receives a survivor benefit and child tax benefits, but making ends meet isn’t easy.
“It’s a real struggle sometimes. It’s extremely stressful when you don’t know if you’ll have enough money to pay all the bills, if you’ll have a place to live, and you’re struggling to give the kids what they need.
“If it wasn’t for the food bank I don’t know what we’d do. Especially teenagers, you want to put decent food on their plate.”
LeBlanc says her total expenses to maintain the house are about $1,950 per month, but that doesn’t include costs such as groceries, a vehicle or anything needed by her kids.
Although she has a tenant, her total income doesn’t reach $2,500 some months.
LeBlanc expresses gratitude for help such as sports programs and camps subsidized for low-income families in the community. She’s also pleased to see the low-income housing being built.
One positive to her family’s situation is her children have earned money themselves and have seen the value of things, she says. Also, when money for outings is scarce, sometimes they just spend time together.
But she would like to see a greater investment in people, beginning in childhood. It would include early supports for mental health issues such as better access to counselling.
“Myself, I can’t work full-time because of my mental challenges. I was on a wait list for counselling, but I basically gave up on that,” she said.
“It’s easy to say people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps…Sometimes that’s more of a challenge than they realize.
“It’s a night-and-day kind of thing.”
Which leaves her in a financially precarious position.
“I have to get more income coming in. If I don’t, I’ll eventually lose the house.”