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Kirk’s Story

Surviving in rural Nova Scotia on $525 a month

by Rural Poverty In Annapolis Valley West

For many in rural Nova Scotia making ends meet is a daily challenge. Some days they fail to do so. This is the story of one such person. Kirk, subsisting on $525 a month after suffering a debilitating accident. Somehow he manages to remain cheerful. (Stock photo)
For many in rural Nova Scotia making ends meet is a daily challenge. Some days they fail to do so. This is the story of one such person. Kirk, subsisting on $525 a month after suffering a debilitating accident. Somehow he manages to remain cheerful. (Stock photo)

This is the second in a series of posts about being poor in rural Nova Scotia, most particularly in the western end of Annapolis Valley, in the riding of Premier Stephen McNeil.

Kirk is a very mild mannered man.  It seems as if nothing can upset him. Life has dealt Kirk some terrible blows but he handles them with aplomb and grace. There is no bitterness, no feelings of entitlement, no feelings of "Why me?".  His marriage broke down 5 years ago but he and his wife are still friends and still check in on each other regularly.  

His house is off the grid.  It's not because this is a lifestyle choice, Kirk definitely isn’t a new age hippy. It's because he cannot afford electricity from Nova Scotia Power.   His income is from Canada Pension Disability and is a mere  $525 a month.

Kirk used to be a construction labourer. He would be up at 5 am and out to work for 6:30, dragging 50 lbs of roofing materials up ladders several times a day. Bags of cement went over his shoulders with ease. Large sheets of gyprock were awkward, but he managed. Kirk was in very good physical shape.

Then he fell and broke his neck. It did not happen on the job site so there was no Workers' Compensation to be had.

"I was lucky" he would tell his friends.  "I can still walk."

But he is in a lot of pain each day.  After several months in the hospital, he recuperated and tried going back to work. But he found the pain to be too much for him to handle.  He couldn't lift heavy materials any more and even trying would bring on a migraine headache that would cripple him for days.

He had to quit working and apply for Canada Pension Disability while he wasn't even 50 years old. Because he had been paid so poorly over his working life, his CPP disability cheques were also very low.  

When his marriage broke up, Kirk had to find some place to live.  Fortunately, at one time  he and his wife bought a camping trailer and a bit of land.  This property was paid for and Kirk and his wife agreed that he should move there.

Without power, the small  and old trailer also needed a lot of repair work. Kirk just moved his bed into the living room/kitchen area and slept next to the wood stove.  Over the next couple of years, as he could afford building materials, he fixed up the bedroom so that he could sleep there.  

He also bought and bartered for deep cycle batteries, a few solar panels and a windmill so that he could hook up some off grid power to listen to his music on the radio.  Kirk dearly loves old country music. His cousin comes to visit him every Sunday evening and they sit and listen to the local country music station playing "Old Time Country Tunes" from the 40s and the 50s.

Kirk says he is happy with his life.  He has learned to be happy with what he has.  He counts his family members who live close by as part of the reason why he is 'lucky' and happy.  His family members love him and support him as best they can.  They are not rich themselves but a casserole every other week or use of their washing machines can go a long way with Kirk.

Kirk lives on $17.50 a day.  His biggest bill is his cell phone which he has on an account.  His phone goes everywhere with him because he may have a medical emergency.  He pays $52 a month for his phone so that he can make and receive daytime calls.  

The rest of his meager cheque goes to wood heat (he needs at least  six cords a winter), food, clothing (good fitting sneakers are especially important for him to support his spine properly), transportation (medical check ups in Halifax cost $150 per trip) and miscellaneous expenses.

There is no local transportation available for Kirk, as for most poor people who live in the country. He cannot afford a vehicle on his disability income. The bus? He would have to walk several kms to reach the nearest bus stop, but even then, it only goes by every second hour.  If the weather is bad, that is a long walk and a long miserable wait for him.

A few years ago, someone gave Kirk an old 10-speed bike to get around in the summer time. For a few years Kirk could be seen biking in and out of the local town with his knapsack on his back.  But then one day he hit a pothole and fell over the handlebars. The bike was ruined and he fractured his wrist and aggravated his neck injury.  No more biking  for Kirk.

These days Kirk walks  a lot.  Kirk not only walks to get places but says that it is good for his physical health to be active.  He knows  that broken neck is going to come back to haunt him and he wants to be as active as he can, for as long as he can.

Local people that know Kirk give him a drive to wherever he needs to go.  His friend drives him to the food bank each month so he doesn't have to walk all the way home with 40 lbs of food on his back.

He has heard rumours going around about himself, about how he isn't really injured and that he is just 'milking the system' so that he doesn't have to work.  

He just shrugs off the people who choose to believe that rumour.  He knows what he is and isn't capable of doing, of what his neck injury will allow him to do and for how long.  "It's only my business" he says "and no one else's."

Kirk is the true definition of a gentleman and a survivor.

See also: Elizabeth's story. Struggling (and failing) to make ends meet in rural Nova Scotia

Check out the blog Rural poverty in Annapolis West.


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