…A few hours later, after a good breakfast and a cleanup, we drove around looking at our new surrounding, although it was hard to see anything in the pouring rain. We decided that we would apply for welfare just to get our feet on the ground. We located the municipal government building, parked the car, and went over to the facility. There was a long line-up from the office’s front door, then down the street, around the corner, and down a block or two. There were old men, old women; young men, young women; many Native Americans, young and old; hippies, young and old; well just a cross section of life itself in this part of the world. Welfare was a disconcerting all inclusive service that was indiscriminate and unsympathetic in its application. It had no pretensions whatsoever with respect to class distinction. No, welfare treated everyone exactly the same.
And just then a young man came running down from the offices and the front of the line as excitable as one could be. Looking at no one in particular he shouted out for all of us to hear:
“Hey Billy, Hey Billy” he yelled. “I got fifty bucks!”
“Great,” Billy said, “Let’s spend it” some unknown entity answered, eagerly.
We were all excited, for him and for us.
Off he went with his best friend to have a wonderful and insightful day of booze and drugs. Within a day or two Billy and his mate will have run out of the financial juice and be forced to scrounge for scraps and drugs and live on and off the street in the city’s East End, or at least until the welfare’s maven’s call to muster yet again on this avenue of distilled dreams. It was a never ending pendulum rout from want to waste: a cycle of hope of anticipated elixir followed by deep despair. “There but for the grace of God go I” I thought yet here we all were waiting in line together, like seals yelping on a harbour pier, with anxious determination that our applications for approval or continued support from the man will be granted. Unbeknownst to Timmy and I we just happened to pick the worst day of the week to apply for assistance – Welfare Wednesday. Unlike Timmy and I most of these people were already approved. They were waiting for their cheques.
After a considerable wait we finally made it to the front of the line. There, face to face with the government official, we were drilled with expurgatory type questions that seemed to spell impatience or indifference on the part of the agent. There was no compassion or expectation for and on us by him. After what seemed to be an onslaught of useless questions we were directed to an office to wait for the next cull of disingenuous applicants.
We were finally interviewed, but one at a time, separated as if we were common criminals. I, we, explained our situation, basically, homeless with minimal funds. We needed help but only temporarily you see. We wanted to work. Whatever it was, the agent seemed to like us for we were immediately provided with a cheque each for fifty bucks plus a lead on basic accommodation. If we decided to stay at one of the identified flats on the city’s approved list of flop houses the city would pay for the first months rent. We accepted, thanked the man and were on our way. We almost felt like yelling to the world when we left that building: “Hey world, we got our fifty bucks. Now let’s spend it” Yes, all was good with the world.
That was the one and only time in my life that I applied for Welfare. That 50 bucks got us our start in life on the wet coast. I have never begrudged anyone who has gone on welfare for one never knows the individual circumstances or the personal stories that steers one into social desperation and dependency.