Fare Well with Welfare: How to Survive Welfare by Rolf Auer


For my friend Karen. I owe you, big time.

“Own yourself. It doesn’t cost anything.”–Rolf Auer, 2013

Section 1: Where is my money going?

Let’s say you arrive cold in some Canadian city like Vancouver BC by Greyhound bus wearing only the clothes on your back. Let’s say it’s after business hours. You’re hungry, you have no money, and your survival is uppermost in your mind.

Now what? Hit the head, if you need to. Have a drink of water. Get hold of a free pen/cil and paper (ask, if necessary!). (An aside: if you see a free empty pop bottle or such, wash it and rinse it out, fill it with water, and bring it.)

First things first. Put food aside for the moment. The priority is securing shelter.

You could hail the nearest citizen(s) and ask s/he (or them) for walking directions to the nearest shelter. Write these down. (It doesn’t have to be perfect strangers who are exiting the bus station. This could even include ticket agents.) What I would also do is try to ask to borrow their phone, then phone information (after getting permission from the owner to do so) for the telephone number of the shelter (if you haven’t already secured this from the phone owner), then phone the shelter and verify that it is open, has space, and will do intake on you if you arrive within the next hour. Repeat until successful. Be prepared to spend the night sleepless in the bus station until successful. Next, go to shelter.

Upon arriving, see if you can get a free bite to eat (Airline peanuts, anything!) to tide you over until you can find a food lineup. See what other useful information you might glean from staff, such as the nearest welfare office, the nearest soup-kitchen/sandwich-line-up, the nearest area of town to find low-income accommodation, etc. Obtain as much free printed literature, brochures, etc. about these queries as you can find. (If these are not immediately apparent, don’t be afraid to ask! You have the ability to communicate: use it.) Always be as polite as you possibly can. Ya never know!

Try not to hit people up for money: remember, first impressions are important, and you (whether you like it or not) are under observation (conscious and otherwise) from the moment you arrive.

Find out as fast as possible what the rules are for the shelter. (e.g. Can you return? Do you have to be in at a certain time? Do you have to leave at a certain time?) Make sure you have secure shelter for, say, at least a week. ATTENTION: tiny appleseed-sized bloodsucking creepy-crawlies called bedbugs often proliferate. Be aware!

Next task: get food. There are sandwich-line-ups/soup-kitchens nearby. Get yourself to one and get some food. Adepts at survival often try to squirrel some food away for later.

Next task: go to the nearest welfare office and present yourself as “one citizen in dire need of emergency assistance.” Write down everything you need to do in order to secure an abode. (Usually, this means taking an “intent to rent” form to the landlord (be sure to ask them if your place is free of bedbugs and other critters; if not, can the prospective landlord rid your place of them at no cost to you?), getting s/he to sign it off, check it carefully to see that all the necessary information is there, and return it to the welfare office so it can cut you a cheque.) Don’t forget: you’re on the hunt for literature, brochures, etc. to help you survive: there’s usually a truckload for free at welfare offices. If you don’t see it, ask.

Next task: either find prospective housing immediately, or repeat the shelter/food cycle again and then attempt this.

Et voila! You have an abode and a first cheque. Now what?

Let’s break down the cheque. As I write this, today is 11 February 2014. As of this date, the amount of the cheque (if it’s a full cheque) should be $610.00. Don’t panic. Remember: you’re better off than a lot of homeless people.

Breaking this down, supposedly that’s:

$235.00 for support, and

$375.00 for your abode.

However, if you’re in Vancouver, you’re probably living in the 16,000-strong low-income community named the Downtown Eastside. That means that unfortunately the average rent is $450.00, far in excess of the allotted $375.00 for shelter. Viva capitalismo! (See sarcasm, definition of.) On the plus side (way!), you’re probably well within walking distance of the Carnegie Community Centre (at Hastings and Main).

Do everything in your power to get a bank account asap. (Then get direct deposit information for your bank account, for the next time you’re at the welfare office. You’ll need the Branch/Institution Id: xxx (three digits), the Transit Number: xxxxx (five digits), and your Account Number. Try to get the address and phone number of your bank branch as well. Get a bank card, look into doing telephone banking until you have your own computer (and preferably your own internet access) so you can then do online banking.)

Pay rent. From $610.00, that leaves, at best, $160.00 to last you the month.

Let’s take out some expenses.

$21.00…One book of ten 1-zone FareSaver transit tickets.

$1.00…..membership to the Carnegie Community Centre located at Hastings and Main (worth every penny! Here’s why: you can get connected with people. You can use the free phone. You can buy a low-cost meal at the cafeteria. You can sign up for computer access. (Do this as quickly as possible.) You can stock up on literature, brochures, etc. helping you to survive: if you can, snag “Help In The Downtown Eastside”; ask for it at the front desk!)

You’re left with $138.00. Go to the Carnegie Centre. Set aside $5.00. Eat, eat! (And get a sandwich and/or date bar or something for later). Need to replenish your water?

You’re left with $133.00.

Do everything you can to find out where to get free stuff. (If you’re lucky enough to lay your hands on the brochure called Help In The Downtown Eastside, I think there’s even a section called Free Stuff in it.)

Thrift stores are your friend.

Food banks are your friend.

Next task: go to the nearest food bank as soon as possible and get food. Bring it all back home. Have a snack and/or sandwich, if you want.

Next task: you need to get:

  • a sturdy can opener (splurge!)
  • a small and a medium-sized pot (preferably with covers)
  • a frying pan
  • a spatula, preferably plastic and sturdy
  • a cup
  • a plate
  • a bowl
  • 2 soup spoons, 2 forks, 2 knives
  • a sharp knife, preferably serrated
  • a washcloth and a towel

Does your place give you access to a stove? If not, you need to get:

  • a hotplate

Put your stuff away at home. (Make yourself something quick to eat if you need, or eat something that doesn’t need prep, if that’s your pleasure.)

Say you lucked out and managed to get all this for only $43.00. (Okay, eh, I’m a bleeding heart optimist.) You’re left with $90.00.

Now you’re going to use your first transit ticket to go to the most convenient grocery store (unless you’re okay to do your shopping at stores like Quest or Sunrise, in which case walk!).

I priced these provisions at a Loblaws Superstore. There’s one at South East Marine Drive and Main. (Quickie orientation: In Vancouver, north is towards the water, south away; that’s the opposite of Toronto.) There’re also ones at Rupert Skytrain station and at Metrotown Skytrain station. However, these are 2-zone transit fares from the DTES. You’ll need:

  • if there’re bedbugs, petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline): smear it all over the legs of your bed! The bugs can’t crawl through petroleum jelly, bwaaahaaahaaha! [$2.80+tx]
  • if there’re any other creepy-crawlies, such as cockroaches, some sort of bug poison, say Black Flag or Raid. Tobacco is supposed to be a natural insect repellent. Chinese Chalk (from Sunrise grocery or similar from say Chinatown) is supposed to work, too. I personally prefer the hard chemicals. What I’ve done previously which seems to work well is stuff all cracks with toilet paper, then spray. [$6.00+tx]
  • toilet paper, laundry detergent, soap (I like Ivory Snow. (No, I’m not being paid to endorse it.)), razors? You don’t need toothpaste or shaving cream just yet… [12/$4.00+tx,$5.50+tx,3/$2.50+tx,$3.00+tx]
  • flour [5kg/$7.30]
  • cornstarch [$2.60]
  • baking soda [$1.00]
  • salt, (pepper) [$1.00,($4.80later)]
  • sugar [2kg/$2.50]
  • shortening aka lard [$2.40]
  • cocoa [$4.00]
  • powdered milk [$7.30]
  • margarine (preferably some which both tastes like butter and doesn’t have to be refrigerated after opening) [$2.50-$5.00]
  • peanut butter [1kg/$4.00]
  • paper towels [2/$1.00]
  • instant coffee (go ahead, splurge! I like Maxwell House. (No, I’m not being paid to endorse it.)) And/or (tea). [200g/$6.90+tx,(50bags/$5.00+tx,later)]
  • at least 6 bananas (set 3 aside for making banana bread, if you’ve access to a stove) [$3.00]
  • hot sauce (optional: some like it hot!) [$1.50+tx]
  • instant noodles [6/$0.89]
  • did the food bank give you any meat? If not, get 1 or 2 canned meat (see Sections 2 & 3) [tuna/$1.60,(cornbeef/$3.00later)]
  • did the food bank give you any veggies? If not, get 1 or 2 canned veggies (see Sections 2 & 3) [peas/$1.30]
  • grated parmesan cheese [$6.00]
  • elbow macaroni [900g/$1.50]
  • tomato paste [2small@$0.60]

Lug all this stuff home. If you can somehow manage to do it all within 90 minutes (the duration of a transit ticket), so much the better. (What I might try to do is walk to the grocery store, get this first round of provisions, then take transit home. That way, you can take your time shopping. Your call.) Total ~ $87.00. Get some quarters for laundry.

You now have left, maybe, $3.00, in quarters, for laundry. Take time to relax. Put your towel around you, do a quickie laundry of all your clothes. (I’d do this in the sink and save a few pennies. Use the dryer, though!) Make yourself a coffee or a tea or a hot choc. Prepare a meal that is hot and fast.

Congratulations! You made it to the first stage. Stand up and take a bow! (I’m just teasing you!)

Rest. Tomorrow you’re going to get some more clothes… (Can’t sleep? Walk around the block, get some fresh air, and get to know your neighbourhood.)


“Memory is the mother of community.”—Sandy Cameron

from one of his poems: One Hundred Years Of Struggle

from one of his books: Being True to Ourselves

website: http://www.SandyCameron.vcn.bc.ca


Some remaining tasks:

Task: get some free clothes. If you can somehow get a pair of steel-toed workboots that fit, good luck! Yer gonna need these, to put in a couple of days waged work. Face it, you need a few more bucks for a cell phone plus some more provisions. If you can find another way to make a few bucks other than manual slave labour at some temp place, more power to ya! (e.g. telemarketing…)

Task: you need a cellphone asap. Try to get unlimited talk/texting. “Wind” offers such a plan for ~$40.00+tx/mo.=~$45.00/mo. However, you have to buy both the phone (unlocked) plus a $25.00+tx SIM card. Investigate this on the net (try kijiji.com). To start, here’s a link for more info: http://globalnews.ca/news/676741/whats-the-best-cheapest-canadian-cellphone-plan-out-there/ You might have to buy a cheapo used cell phone—perhaps one with cosmetic damage—off Kijiji.com or ebay.ca.

Task: ongoing: you’ll have to file jobs searches with welfare in order to keep receiving your cheque. You can conduct these via your cell phone, newspapers (Library), The Employment Paper (free), kijiji.com, the net (computer access, Carnegie Centre), etc. I’ve been told “cold calling” works, if you’ve got the stomach to be turned down cold over and over again… (def’n “cold calling”: find phone numbers for businesses that you’re interested in, and call these in case they’re any jobs available there which are not advertised. You’ll probably need a résumé. Investigate free résumé services…) [there’s a story by W.C. Fields: “If you stand on a street corner and ask 100 passers-by if they want to get laid, you’ll get slapped a lot, but you’ll get laid!”—bwaaahaaahaaha!]

Task: get a computer and your very own “private” internet access. (Cough, cough; all this really means is that you’re not on public access where some jagoff with a soupcon of computer knowledge can too easily pry into your communications. I just want to add a note here to the jagoffs: except for how his life ended, Aaron Swartz should be your role model!) (See Tips For Survival).

Task: you’re going to have to lay in more provisions. Items to get include:

  • pepper
  • corned beef + more canned meat
  • tea
  • good margarine
  • potatoes
  • rice (parboiled cooks fastest; long grain brown is the most nutritious)
  • onions
  • spices? At least try to get Italian seasoning.
  • pasta sauce?
  • jam
  • fresh fruit
  • vitamins?
  • canned salmon
  • lentils (red cooks fastest)
  • oats, semolina (cous cous (coarse, grain), cream of wheat (fine))
  • dry cereal (I like Shredded Wheat, the original. (No, I wasn’t paid to endorse this.))
  • bouillons (I have beef, chicken, veggie, fish, mushroom always on hand in case I want to make soup, and I often make those.)
  • appliances: rice cooker, slow cooker, etc. (see Tips For Survival)
  • I have a largish shoulder bag, and a backpack. These are handy for grocery shopping.
  • canned milk, if you don’t mind that it’s sickly sweet…
  • toothpaste
  • shaving cream
  • shampoo
  • pesto? Okay, it’s time to quit, I’m just throwing ideas out there now…
  • more dishes, cutlery, maybe a double bed… You might get a hot date! Ya never know!

Task: (Except for the stuff you absolutely have to buy new, I would try to get these things second-hand: kijiji.com, thrift stores, garage sales, etc.) You need the odd day here and there of waged work—you’re allowed to make some money now while receiving income assistance, $200 I believe–because you’re probably going to want:

  • a bar fridge for your abode, so you can keep eggs, butter, milk, cheese, etc.
  • a TV
  • maybe even a radio
  • an iPod or MP3 player? (I like music. (No, I wasn’t paid to endorse musicians.))
  • a tablet?
  • to subscribe to some publication(s)?…
  • to subscribe to news?…
  • to subscribe to movies?…
  • mad movie money. Perhaps you relish the thrill of the public theatres… The giant screen/speakers is indeed an experience…

Whatever. As a friend of mine used to tell me, “Blow your socks off!”



Section 2: A couple of easy recipes


Quickie measuring tips:


1 teaspoon = 1 tsp = 1/3 tablespoon = 1/3 tbsp

1 tsp = 4.93 millilitres

1 cubic centimeter = 1 millilitre

2.54 centimetres = 1 inch


2 tbsp = 1 fluid ounce

4 tbsp = ¼ cup

2 cups = 1 pint

2 pints = 1 quart

4 quarts = 1 gallon


236 millilitres = 1 cup (US measure, which is mainly what North America uses)

1000 millilitres = 1 litre


1 ounce = 28 grams

1 pound = 454 grams


Here’s a cute little formula of mine for converting Celsius (or Centigrade) to Fahrenheit:

Double C reading, subtract 10% (to get 10%, move decimal point left one place), add 32.

E.g.: What is 30 degrees Celsius in Fahrenheit? Double 30 = 60. Subtract 6 = 54. Add 32 = 86.


Salmon & Rice casserole aka Paté Saumon

1 cup rice

½ onion chopped

1 cup milk

3 tbsp flour

3 tbsp butter

1 can wild salmon, open.

250 gm parmesan cheese

salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Pan fry onion over low heat until translucent.

In a pot, melt butter over low heat, add flour and make a paste. Slowly add milk, mixing well and stirring. Add cooked onion. Put over low heat on burner, stirring in a “figure eight” motion. Add salt, pepper to taste. Add fluid from canned salmon. Stir in a figure eight until noticeably thickened. Set this roux aside, covered.

In casserole dish, put down a bed of one-half the cooked rice. Spread one half the canned salmon over the top of the rice. Liberally sprinkle one half the parmesan cheese over the top of the salmon. Put one half of the roux over the top of the parmesan. Repeat for another layer.

Cover. Put in oven for 20 minutes. Let cool! Bon appétit!



Eggless Pancakes


1/2 cup flour

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp sugar

¼ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

2/3 cup water


Thoroughly mix dry ingredients. Add water, mix well to make pancake batter.

On low heat, melt 1 tbsp shortening in frying pan. Completely coat bottom.

Still on low heat, pour one third of batter in pan. Pan fry until lots of bubbles appear on top of the pancake. Flip and pan fry. Repeat twice.

Let cool. Enjoy with peanut butter!

Section 3: Tips For Survival

  1. A FareSaver bus ticket is good in any direction for 90 minutes. Can you get everything done using only one?
  2. Food banks are your friend. They give you free food, especially fresh veggies and fresh meat.
  3. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for sales. Coupons can save $$!! Stock up!!
  4. Keep soup kitchens etc. as a last resort (standing in line is a drag). Special dinners  (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.) are your call.
  5. Thrift stores are your friend. Very low cost pots, pans, utensils, appliances (drip coffee maker…), clothes. These include the Salvation Army.
  6. Buy least expensive: it’s still edible, or wearable, or whatever. Buy in bulk, if possible. Investigate places like Chinatowns markets. Stock up on sales!!
  7. Libraries are your friend. You can find lots to keep you busy. Ditto Community Centres. (Sometimes, these have free internet. (e.g., The Carnegie Centre))
  8. If you can manage it, volunteer. It’s good for the soul! (IMPORTANT: If you’re doing a résumé, don’t forget to mention that you’re doing volunteer work!) Free Geek gets you a computer! Carnegie gets you meals from its caff!
  9. As much as humanly possible, avoid debt, running a tab, any money transaction that leaves you owing, except those that are absolutely necessary (e.g., cell phone). These only bring you grief: take it from me, I’m experienced. (If you have to borrow, borrow food and pay it back!)
  10. Unless you have a private fridge in your abode, steer clear of perishables. (Get canned meat: kippers, tuna, sardines, corned beef, salmon, etc. Get canned veggies: chick peas, beans, corn, mushrooms, etc.)
  11. Can’t hurt to take vitamins, if you can afford it: (1) vitamin C, 1 gram in the morning, 1 gram in the evening (arrr! prevents scurvy!) (2) B complex (3) multivitamin (4) vitamin D
  12. If you cut yourself get a wad of toilet paper and apply pressure until the bleeding stops (usually about 10 minutes). Hydrogen peroxide is an inexpensive sterilizer.
  13. Investigate protein complementing. You could start with Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet For A Small Planet found at the library.
  14. If you need glasses, these can usually be got from Social Services.
  15. Look into securing a CVP (Community Volunteer Program) from Social Services. This will give you an extra $100 per month, usually for 10 volunteer-hours per month. If you don’t get one right away, don’t fret, just get on the list.
  16. Are you supposed to be getting a diet allowance? (e.g., are you diabetic, etc.?) Are there any other entitlements you’re supposed to be getting?
  17. Appliances to keep looking for: (1) microwave oven (2) coffee maker, if you crave ground coffee that much! (3) rice cooker (4) slow cooker (get 5 quart + )
  18. Junk food. Okay, everyone has their weaknesses, and junk food’s a biggie! (Chips, choc bars, etc.) So, get some sometimes! Yeah, splurge. But not too much! (If you have to do it, do it as a treat!) Remember, “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips!”
  19. If you have to go to the welfare office, see if you can get your bus tickets covered.
  20. Sometimes, sometimes, bus drivers will give you a free ride if you smile and say “please!” (If you’re going to the welfare office, tell them that: they’re supposed to give you a free ride in that case.)
  21. Do everything in your power to get a bank account. Get “direct deposit,” so that your cheque goes directly to your bank account, instead of being mailed (and therefore being subjected to the vagaries of the postal system…) Get an ATM card. (ATM = Automated Teller Machine)
  22. Never carry more than $20 on you. (If you’re forced to give out your PIN, recite it backwards. When the thieves enter that, the police are notified.)(PIN = Personal Identification Number = your ATM card “password”.)
  23. Get $10 in quarters for the laundry, if you use coin operated machines. Load the washer up to 3 inches below the rim. If you can air-dry your wash by hanging it around your abode, do that.



About Rolf Auer

I’m this doofus who’s trying to get by as a know-it-all poet. Fighting poverty has long been an abiding interest of mine. Sharing fast, easy, low-cost recipes is but one way of doing that.🙂
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