Councillor goes on Welfare Food Challenge

Chris Wilson to experience the hardship of living on $18 food budget for the week in the hope that welfare rates will be raised

Trying to live on $18 worth of groceries for an entire week is the goal of Coquitlam councillor and former Olympic wrestler Chris Wilson.

Wilson said he expects to lose a few of his 181 lb. after living on what poverty advocates say is all that's left per week for a single person for groceries from a $610 welfare allowance — after paying rent, a damage deposit, the costs of a cellphone needed to find a job and for personal hygiene products.

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Wilson took on the seven-day Welfare Food Challenge that starts Sunday, Oct. 16 as a way of raising awareness about welfare rates that haven't been increased since 2007.

In that period, Wilson says, MLA stipends rose from $76,000 to almost $103,000 and an MLA housing allowance is five times greater than that of a welfare recipient.

"Why do they think $375 a month should be enough for housing when they get so much more?" said Wilson.

Taking advantage of mid-week sales, Wilson bought $7 worth of dry goods, such as beans, tuna, and spaghetti noodles, sauce and a can of pineapples. He's looking for sales to bulk up on veggies and fruit on his remaining $11 but challenge rules prevent him from using the food bank, cadging meals off friends or family or even taking advantage of free meals offered councillors at council meetings.

Wilson said his biggest worry is the effect being hungry will have on his energy level, remembering what it was like being a student and training and having to count calories to stay in his wrestling weight class.

"I'm going to document this, I am going to show people what I can eat," said Wilson, who hopes the challenge will convince the provincial government to raise welfare rates.

Poverty has long been an issue for Wilson, who ran as a provincial NDP candidate for the Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding prior to running for Coquitlam council. It's one of the reasons he continues to head up Tri-Cities KidSport which helps low-income families with the cost of recreational sports.
"It's always been a big concern of mine and while it doesn't have a lot of relevance to city issues, I'm just doing my part to bring greater awareness to it so hopefully the provincial government raises the rates."

Wilson plans to meet with local MLAs Linda Reimer (BC Liberals) and Mike Farnworth (NDP) to raise the issue of welfare rates and also blog about his experience on Facebook and the Welfare Food Challenge website (welfarefoodchallenge.org).

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