My name is Sherry-Selena Hucul and I am a proud, single mother of four living in rural Lanark County. I have had many challenges in life to deal with and I am shaped by my experiences. I live with depression, anxiety and PTSD, diabetes type II, and chronic pain from a car accident. I have kids with special needs, who I advocate for constantly and love unconditionally. Like many others, I was not blessed with family support and somehow I have learned to be resilient and resourceful in the worst of times.
I became involved with The Table Community Food Centre in Perth, Ontario over three years ago as a Good Food Bank participant, sporadically in need of emergency food when I could not make ends meet on my limited budget. I admit to feeling guilty and ashamed for needing to ask for help and had to swallow my pride, really hard, while entering that door. Being treated with respect and kindness by the volunteers and staff at The Table helped lessen my insecurities and I left feeling relief, with bags of healthy food/staples to tide my family over.
I am thankful to have a roof over our heads, and yet, I am financially stressed as I juggle my finances to pay for my mortgage, food, heat, basic necessities and electricity costs every month. I survive through my overdraft. There is no money left over for extra-curricular activities for my children, or vacations, or movies, or meals out. I buy second-hand and live frugally.
A year ago I needed to make a change in my life, so I signed up for the Community Action Training at The Table. I have not looked back since.
After completing the CAT training, I began my training as a Peer Advocate in The Advocacy Office of The Table in the spring of 2016. To be back in the workforce after years of isolating depression is very empowering and I can thank The Table for this!
I also took the Food Fit Program in the winter/spring session and made connections with many lovely community members during our walks and cooking together. We learned new healthy recipes, cooking techniques and how to creatively combine various grains, legumes, vegetables, and spices together into economical delicious meals that we shared.
I was involved in The Table’s Housing Outreach Campaign from its origin in January 2016. This group “acts on housing insecurity issues to help create dignified solutions for local residents, through outreach, surveys, interviews, needs assessments, and community forums”.
Unfortunately, I have not had time the past couple of months to help out with the Housing Outreach Campaign as I returned to post-secondary education – I am taking the Social Service Worker Program at Algonquin College. My fellow Peer Advocates at The Table helped encourage me in making my decision to further my education. I will be able to gain more skills in order to help others in the future.
I want to say that donors to The Table may not realize how much their generosity means to someone on a low income. It can mean not having Hydro One disconnect a community member’s power because they are able to use the intended grocery money, instead, for their electricity bill. Or it can mean being able to fill up a gas tank; buy shoes or warm boots for their children; pay car insurance, rent or a phone bill. It helps lessen anxiety and takes some financial stress off, which is much appreciated.
This past month my hydro increased another $66.00. I am not sure why it increased but I am sure it has nothing to do with the amount of electricity I’m using. I wash dishes by hand; hang clothes out on the clothesline and by the woodstove; turn off lights and unplug appliances whenever possible. I stay up late at night to take advantage of ‘Off Peak’ times to do laundry. My Hydro One equal billing is now $309.00 a month despite conserving electricity and using it during off-peak times as much as possible. My house is heated by wood and propane.
My son requires a Bi-pap machine for his severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. I get really anxious when I receive a disconnection notice because they’ve raised the rates again, then my equal billing plan changes and I can’t pay the $300.00 increase right away. I’ve used LEAP to avoid disconnection and applied for the OESP credit and that is still pending.
Hydro was $80.00 per month approximately 8-9 years ago and that was when I used a dryer and owned a dishwasher – old luxuries.
Hydro One has been sending ‘Home Energy Reports’ which I call ‘shaming reports’. These reports show a ‘Last Month Neighbour Comparison’ stating, “You used 45 % more electricity than your neighbours,” and a ‘Last 12 Months Neighbour Comparison’ stating, “You used 54% more electricity than your neighbours. You could save up to $967 a year by being more efficient.”
The language used implies that the customer is not efficient enough and not good enough. Others have mentioned receiving the ‘shaming reports’ as well, and it is felt as bullying and demeaning, and creates more anxiety in some people.
While working as a Peer Advocate in The Advocacy Office at The Table, I have helped many clients with the processing of their LEAP and OESP applications for help with their electricity and heating costs. There is a definitive trend of our clients being increasingly stressed out and financially devastated by their hydro costs.
It is frustrating to try to help desperate community members receive financial help that is like a drop in the bucket. It is discouraging to know that because the hydro rates continue to increase it means that it is virtually impossible for anyone to ever be caught up in their billing.
Hydro increases affect peoples’ lives all across Lanark County – they can never get ahead and it feels hopeless! There are disconnection notices being mailed out regularly to folks who are only $200.00 behind. People are stressed about their hydro costs and are very angry.
For me to say that I live on a low-income feels more acceptable, but the truth is that I scrape by under the poverty line. I resist using the word ‘poverty’ for all that it implies with the stigma and judgements attached to it. It is difficult to stand tall with your head held high and look others in the eye when poverty pushes down on your shoulders and shames you beneath society. I do feel a great sense of belonging to something that is much greater than myself and I truly give credit to the staff and participants at The Table for helping me along my journey.