Opening doors to improved futures.
Imagine yourself with a pile of bills and not enough money to pay them all. You are not quite sure if you can make the rent, feed your children, plus pay off the phone bill, which is in arrears. You know you can turn to the Food Bank once a month, but that doesn’t ease everyday worries. You needed household furnishings and didn’t want the feeling of being poor to stare you in the face, so, you signed a “rent-to-own” furniture agreement and now you feel trapped. Your credit card is maxed out, and creditors are calling every day. Maybe one of those widely-promoted loans would help? One ad promised up to $15,000 with interest starting at 29.99%.
Sometimes the debt coupled with low income tempts you to turn back to the sex trade to pay those bills. You don’t want to do this because you still live with the scars, but you can’t see another option. You want help. A friend tells you to call CEASE and ask about the EMPOWER U program and other ways CEASE might be able to assist you. You make the call.
That call opens a quick window: a friendly voice, a listening ear, and food cards for immediate needs. Then a door to a path for longer term change opens.
EMPOWER U: Building Confident Futures is a city-wide collaboration to equip people, primarily women, with tools to go beyond just surviving on low incomes and drowning in debt. It’s a financial literacy and money matching program taught by peer facilitators and a coordinator. The peer leaders are women who have walked the same path as you, and you feel comfortable because they know what it’s like, and there is no judgement. Both of them now have jobs that provide a living wage for their families. They have restored their credit ratings and make positive decisions about their finances.
The United Way is the backbone organization along with the City. There are nine program delivery partners including CEASE, as well as a number of supporting businesses, funders, donors, and financial institutions. You can save up to $240, which is matched to $480 for a total of $720 towards an asset that will move you forward financially. The ATB assists participants to set up an account to deposit savings. Volunteer financial planners coach you how to deal with creditors and manage debt.
You see an improved future, and you reach for it.
Kate is the Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).