Gilchrist: Rent bank benefits outweigh any costs

At my first newspaper job, I grossed $1,600 a month.

By the time I moved to the next one, I hadn't paid down much of my student loan and began living on my credit card, paying the minimum balance every month.

I hit financial bottom when I realized I was visiting the bank machine weekly to see what American Express might spit out. That $50, even $25, made a difference to my quality of life.

To afford the damage deposit on an apartment for my next job, I had to ask family for a loan. Thankfully, that job allowed me to eventually pay off my debts and I pruned back my credit card use.

If I didn't have family to help, I would have continued living on the edge and have no idea how I'd have managed if an emergency came up - a long-distance funeral, car repair, sick child to care for . . .

So I understand how one unexpected event could send an individual or family who are barely making ends meet into financial ruin. Without family or friends to rely on, where would a person turn?

It might be possible to get a payroll advance, turn down the heat to save on power costs, cut corners on the grocery bill, but with no cushion, the chasm grows. Even the most understanding landlord will not tolerate rent repeatedly being late and eviction becomes a very real possibility.

According to a Canadian Payroll Association survey, 57 per cent of Canadian workers would run into financial trouble if their pay was delayed by even a week.

This is why the new Kamloops Rent Bank will make such a difference. It offers one-time loans to people who don't qualify for welfare, unemployment insurance, old age pension or other assistance, helping them through a difficult time with dignity, because it's not a handout.

Homelessness Action Plan co-ordinator Tangie Genshorek says the working poor "are going over the edge into really extreme poverty and ending up on the streets."

In last fall's homeless count, 73 per cent of those living on the streets reported the reason for being homeless is that housing is either unaffordable or unavailable. According to the HAP 2012 Community Report, it costs $55,000 a year to leave a homeless person on the street (think trips to the hospital, providing emergency shelter and emergency services like the police in dealing with problems) and $37,000 a year to provide housing with support services.

So keeping people from heading over a personal fiscal cliff costs society far less than the alternatives.

Rent bank loans are restricted to rent and utilities like gas, hydro and land lines (no cellphones) and organizers expect loans to max out around $1,500 to $1,600.

Applicants must provide bank records and be clean of addictions for two years. They'll be vetted by a social worker with training in finance, who will also offer budgeting ideas.

If this simple strategy of small, low-interest loans can keep working people from falling deeper into poverty, it will be valuable to our community's well-being and loan recipients knowing they can continue to look after themselves and their families with pride.

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