Thursday, January 29, 2015

Apartment Hunting and the Ontario Disability Support Program.

I am an 800-lb. gorilla, and you ain't fooling me no more.

Louis Shalako

The other day I was speaking to a young man. He is thirty-three years old. He works full time for a prominent Canadian automotive retailer. He makes twelve bucks an hour give or take a few cents.

He was lining up in front of the food bank. He had broken up with his partner, who had a couple of daughters in school or working. They’re still sleeping in the same bed, as he is currently trying to save up first and last month’s rent to get his own place. I asked him about noise, one of my petty little interests these days.

He snorted.

“We can hear the next-door lady in the bedroom beside us, snoring, coughing, and basically, her pillow is a foot from our pillows….” And the walls are obviously very thin.

Twelve bucks an hour full-time is better than minimum wage. Some would say he is lucky, to be relatively intelligent, able-bodied, and to have a job at all. In some sense, they are of course right.

One of the reasons welfare (Ontario Works) and disability benefits (Ontario Disability Support program, Canada Pension Disability, etc.) are so low in this country is because everyone knows about them. Minimum-wage workers might become understandably upset if they figured out a disabled person in ‘otherwise similar circumstances,’ perhaps age, marital status and skill-set for example, is markedly better off than someone employed for minimal wages full-time. We get about the same things, food, shelter and clothing (of a kind) without having to put in forty hours under some scab employer to get it.*

The Province of Ontario recently did away with the Moving Benefit, which clients could only get once every two years; with a maximum benefit of $899.00.

I am presently looking for another place to live. The reason I want to leave the building I presently occupy is noise.

It’s not a bad apartment unit.

It’s not a bad neighbourhood. They’re not bad people. I just can’t take the noise. The walls are very thin.

I’m tired of fighting the guy that lives above me. He works until eleven o’clock p.m. When he comes home, he might have a friend over. He might be hungry and want some grub. The thumping from above can be bad sometimes and not so bad at others. It depends who is there, and if they are drinking, playing the stereo or whatever.

I’m tired of fighting with the lady in the next apartment over barking dogs, I’m tired of going across the hall and politely asking the nice young couple that live there if they would please turn the music down. I’m tired of the people, whom I have never met, on the other side of my bedroom wall, coming home at one a.m. and having a shower, opening and closing closet doors, slamming the bathroom door, etc.

The walls are very thin.

Being the man of action, I went on Kijiji and had a look at ads for one-bedroom apartments.

I went and looked at one—and it’s on the top floor, which is just what I said I was looking for. The building and the apartment look all right—about what one might expect in the price range.

The story gets deeper. They will of course ask about your source of income. The lady told me that they have a ‘one-third rule.’ According to her, the rent must not exceed one-third of your income or they don’t want to rent you a unit.

This is where it gets interesting. When I told her that I was on ODSP, she immediately told me that the rule might be ‘a little bit different’ for me. She asked me to provide ODSP benefit stubs for four months. She also told me, “A lot of ODSP people have their cheques sent to us from the Ministry.” 

(Not a direct quote but without attribution we will paraphrase. – ed.)

Interesting conclusion: neither this landlord, nor my present landlord, would have any kind of moral objections to a disabled person paying 65 % to 70 % of their income in rent. 

There’s more. What they want, is a certified cheque or money order for the last month’s rent. Before I can move in, I must pay the first month’s rent. Sounds simple enough, but I want (as a point of honour) to give sixty days of notice at the other building? (At a later date, I may need another place to live, and the present company owns a number of buildings in town.)

Still sounds simple, right?

My next disability cheque is spoken-for. I need to pay the February rent. If I put a stop on that payment, my present landlord would be a bit irate, even if I explained the circumstances, which would go something like this:

“I need a money order to give to the next landlord, but I have already paid last month’s rent here—is there some reason why I can’t do that, (skip a month and pay the next, even though I have not been officially accepted into the next building) and come back and pay next month’s rent, and then, a month after that, use my next disability cheque to pay the first month’s rent over there?”

I suspect the answer would be, “How do we know that you will come back next month, not stiff us, not force us to go for an eviction, and leave us with a month in arrears, you’re safely out of the building and we are now forced to make a decision…hire a skip tracer, and try and collect through the credit agency or small claims court? Or just let you screw us and forget about it?”

So I'm being profiled, right? Or punished for the crime of some other poor working or disabled slob...right? (We all look the same to you, right?)

Sometimes a simple ‘no’ would suffice, ladies and gentlemen, but there is still more.

While the rents are about the same, in the new building they have electrical meters for each unit. It’s an extra charge. They require tenant insurance for all tenants, that’s an extra charge. My income is low enough on ODSP and the income from my books is still in the small but developing stage—and you know all about how much fun that is (on ODSP) from a prior blog post on that subject.

There are one or two other considerations, but simply telling someone ‘if you don’t like it then why not just move’ doesn’t really take facts, circumstances, needs and capabilities into account.

Simple people give simple answers. One is well advised to think it through, get all the facts, (and I have no idea what tenant’s insurance would cost, nor the electricity) so essentially I am done for the time far as I know, or until we get more information, or something in the equation changes for the positive.

We’re still not done yet.

What, the average reader may ask, is the problem with the ODSP/Ministry sending the rent to the landlord? Even though my credit is good, and I am a responsible adult and not a spoiled brat?

Answer: "Since when did I develop a cognitive disorder...???!!!" 

"Oh, well, Mister Shalako...we're just trying to help you, but if you don't want our help..."

(Yeah, what then, and thanks for the implied threat, incidentally.)

Answer: at some point there may be a noise problem, a bedbug or cockroach problem, an abusive neighbour, and the ODSP social worker will ask certain questions.

“Have you spoken to the landlord, the police, the animal control people, the building superintendent, have you been feeling all right lately, are you sure there really is a problem and you’re not just blowing it all out of proportion, you only just moved in there, etc, etc, etc….ad infinitum, ad nauseam…have you been taking the meds, are you sure you don’t want to speak to nice Mr. doctor-man, etc, etc.”

Here is the truth, ladies and gentlemen: landlords love having disabled residents. They get their cheques every month, straight from the Ministry. The client gets what’s left.

The landlord doesn’t care if you have electricity, they don’t care if you have a phone, or the internet, (essential to my business), they don’t care if you starve or line up three and four times a month at the food bank.

The landlords, in collusion with their government cronies of all political shades and stripes, will do everything to ensure a profit for their shareholders. And they don’t give a rat’s ass what happens to you.

For some reason, the disabled are not well represented among their ranks, although they have a few pets that they trot out from time to time for the photo-opportunity that goes along with every fresh, glowingly-positive and completely bogus policy or program announcement this government makes.

And now you know all about it.

The young man with his twelve dollar an hour wage also faces certain challenges, and I think it’s fair to say that none of us at the lower end of the income scale has it exactly easy.

I would like to know whose interests are truly served when government and commerce, working hand in hand, knowing all the facts, seem determined to make life harder for all those unable to defend themselves and who are completely lacking in effective political representation.

But it must serve somebody somewhere…right?


*Conventional (bouorgeois) wisdom is that we should just be grateful; and keep our mouths shut.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Digital Publishing: Control.

Louis Shalako

One of the great selling points of digital self-publishing is control.

This is one of those dichotomous statements. Which is different from a dichotomous question.

Control can be quite illusory.

On one website, only about half my titles, published through Smashwords, actually appeared. Days or weeks had passed since OverDrive had come on stream as a Smashwords distribution channel.

On another site, Txtr, all of my titles appear. They all have current covers. Recent price changes appear to have gone through within 24 hours. The same is true of iTunes. The covers looked up to date and the price changes went through.

For the OverDrive issue, I contacted SW staff a few days ago, and let them know about the problem. 

They said they would re-ship the titles. Checking a couple of days later, there didn’t seem to be a change. I went back tonight and there is still no change. They might ship in a day or two and they might all go through, so anyone who reads this at a later date may find a significant change.

It might be safe to say that one channel has more control than another. When you click a button, everything works.

Since SW began a few years ago, at least one distribution channel disappeared, (Scroll-motion as I seem to recall), and Sony pulled out at a later date. If I check Diesel Books, I discover that I am listed as Louis Bertrand Shalako. I changed the metadata to Louis Shalako a long time ago. The Louis Shalako page only displays eight titles. Only a few titles appear on the first search, mixed in with other books in other genres. Louis Bertrand Shalako displays seven titles. That’s it. What’s interesting is that they’re all paperbacks. There are no ebooks there at all as far as I can determine. So once again, we have an issue of control. Basically I must contact SW staff and find out what’s going on—because I really don’t know, and without data we really don’t have much control. That’s not to say anything is beyond solution, but it does take time, follow-up and the occasional sort of audit of all your distribution channels. Basically, we go out there and have a look at all of them. One experiment I am currently making is to simply opt a title out of one of the distribution channels. It’s not appearing anyway—so no harm is done. A couple of weeks later, maybe by opting in again, they will appear in their proper state. This sort of bypasses SW staff, and would give me that option, i.e. more control.

As the number of channels grows, the need for the occasional channel-audit increases in proportion.

The fact that there are paperbacks on Diesel is not necessarily a bad thing. Those books suffer all the same pitfalls and tribulations as an ebook.  If your product is produced through Createspace, or Lulu, they also have their distribution channels. The longer those channels get, especially if a reseller has a few channels of their own, the possibility of breakdown increases. This is certainly true in the case of the Louis Bertrand Shalako metadata.

There are other cases.

I am referring specifically to Kobo distribution, whether directly from Kobo or via Smashwords. 

Kobo distributed (at one time, I don’t know if they still do) to Angus and Robertson or somebody like that in Australia. The books never had covers in the whole time they were up there. They are still listed on the website (last time I looked), without covers and listed as ‘unavailable.’ This doesn’t help the reader or the writer at all in terms of passive discoverability—and I am not likely to post or promote such a site because it would just be idiotic, right?

This is not so good for the passive discoverability, speaking specifically about the reader that knows my name and has a Diesel account, or an Angus and Robertson account and just happens to be going through there.

The customer has some other reason to be there—whether they went looking for something else, or they were just browsing. Each transaction or non-transaction is one very specific case.

If you have ever looked for a used car, or a new apartment, at a later date you may kick yourself for not asking enough questions.

Digital publishing is a machine. It has lots and lots of little buttons to peck away at.

Our job is to teach ourselves how to use it effectively.

Control over such a machine takes knowledge, and that’s what modern digital publishing really is all about. It’s all about knowledge.

It’s a big machine, and learning how to use it takes time and study.

It’s fascinating, it really is.

That’s one of many reasons why five years later, I’m still here.

That fascination is another selling point, for one such as I.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Ontario Disability Program Explained.

Louis Shalako

I have not made a book submission in about two and a half years. The last book I submitted was Third World.

I am on the Ontario Disability Support Program. I receive a small pension. It’s about two-thirds of subsistence level, which is part of our punishment for not being good, bourgeois, middle-class Canadians. I fell from a scaffolding and broke my back in three places.

(Before that, I really was quite all right.)

Because we are errant children, cretins, mindless retards and life-long heroin addicts, or merely just born dishonest and unwilling to work, the usual no-good lazy cunts who are just out to fuck the system, we are subject to certain guidelines.

Here’s the problem: a six thousand-dollar advance (or any advance) would come in during a one-month period.

I report my income to ODSP. It is the right thing to do, after all. An honest man has less to fear than a thief, a cheat or a fraud. I like that feeling, being able to hold my head up and look the fuckers in the eye. I will not give that up, ladies and gentlemen, not for anyone or anything.

Their position would be a simple one. I am allowed to earn up to $100.00 a month without penalty. 

Those clients employed by others would also receive a cheque for $100.00 from the ODSP. The Work Related Benefit is a subsidy for scab employers as much as anything else. It encourages employers to exploit our misery.

As a client operating a business, the Ministry has allowed me a $100.00 ‘automatic’ deduction for business expenses.

Sounds fair enough, right?

Here’s how it works.

Someone goes out and gets a job at Tim Horton’s. They work four hours a week at ten and a quarter an hour. This results in $164.00 per month in earnings. They have already received a hundred bucks in cash from ODSP. So the government, in their great wisdom, would claw back fifty cents on the dollar for every dollar over $200.00 in any monthly reporting period. They worked sixteen hours to receive $232.00 in benefit from their effort, in other words, money.

If I want to claim a business expense, I have to spend money—it’s not money rolling in, it is money going out. I have to earn the money before I can do that. Money spent on business expenses is money that I cannot use to buy food, shelter and clothing. This is just one obvious disincentive for anyone on ODSP to try and possibly succeed at anything, ladies and gentlemen.

Interestingly enough, I earned $208.00 in December, the result of accrued earnings paid out at the end of a quarterly or yearly period…try explaining that to the ODSP. I was previously reporting sales as they were reported to me. The ODSP social worker asked me to report only cheques received and deposits made—which essentially fucked me, didn’t it? Yet it all seems so reasonable, so logical, that the typical ‘normal’ citizen could not help but agree that it was ‘fair.’

The expense can be claimed against income but only in the month when the expense was incurred. This is different from any other business operated by any other class of citizen in this country. Those other businesses have a twelve-month cycle. In this province, corporate income tax is a measly eleven percent. The ODSP has never denied clients the ‘right to work.’ And I work (allegedly) five or ten hours a day, sometimes more, to achieve whatever earnings I get. Last month I had a receipt for $29.00 in business expenses. This does me no good, as I already have the ‘automatic’ business deduction. I spent eight hundred (on my credit card) when I bought a computer in October. This was useless as a deduction as the earnings simply weren’t there in October.

What this means for last month, is that I would have had to have spent over a hundred dollars already—and have the receipts to prove it—before that $29.00 receipt does me any good at all. I am subject to the same fifty cents on the dollar claw-back as someone working for any number of shit jobs in shit fast-food outlets—you know, the so-called ‘job-creators.’

So why aren’t I submitting books and trying to land that major publishing contract?

If I got an advance, the government would tell me that I get to keep—free and clear, the first $200.00. After that, the government takes fifty cents out of every dollar of the advance against future earnings. Let’s look at a $20,000 advance. I get $10,200.00 and the government takes $9,800.00. 

They say this is not a penalty! Ah, but it gets better. As a client of the ODSP, I am allowed up to $7,000.00 in assets. Anything above that gets their ire up and they would, at the very least, tell me to spend it down.

The really great part is that I would not be allowed to spend the money on food, shelter and clothing! Your social worker will happily explain this to you. It would be perfectly acceptable to go to the casino and piss it away. I could buy a diamond tie clip, wear gold rings and watches, and drink the finest liquor (all mindless luxuries) every day until the money was down to acceptable levels. I could also invest it into the business, subject to the same considerations as listed above—but it would only be possible (or useful) in the month I received it, and if your income isn’t that big, (and how could it be?) there’s not much point. The funny thing is (if you are a member of this or any other government here in Ontario) that I would still be living thirty to forty percent under the poverty line.

Yet my business could have assets up to the guideline level.

It would be more or less legal to take money out of my account, as they would need a lot of nerve to penalize you twice. (Although they do try.) The ODSP has their right of financial review, and they would be sure to have one in my case. They would be asking a lot of questions, and looking for infractions of their guidelines. They would be looking for a reason to cut me off, for a month, a year, or even just to impose an overpayment and dock my cheque by a few hundred a month for as long as it took to pay that off. (And I would still only be able to earn $200.00 a month, 'without penalty.') And you never know what they will accept until you have done the dirty deed and reported it and they have made their decision. This is when they tell you have the right to appeal. 

The government denies benefits to those whom they damned well know are qualified. This lovely act would be committed by the very same social worker who claims to be your friend, your advocate, why, they’re just trying to help you.

But not everyone appeals—the process takes nine or ten months and if you want to win you have to play their game their way. Most clients simply don’t have the wherewithal to fight effectively, and their family members never have the slightest fucking clue of what it is about. Our families are the least effective advocates, because as citizens of this country and this province they may actually have some rights—or honestly believe that you do when quite the reverse is true.

When someone tells you that you have rights, this is a pretty good indicator that they have no fucking idea of what they are talking about. Unless it’s ODSP themselves, in which case it’s a pretty good indicator that you are going to be fucked over.


Okay, so I’m 55 years old and I might, (if I am extremely unlucky) live to be about 85 years old.

During that time, assuming I’m still on ODSP, that would amount to about $390,000.00 in pension benefits, or, Guaranteed Annual Income Supplements, Canada Pension, Old Age Security, etc. If I were to get a fifty or hundred thousand dollar advance, it is difficult to see how I could do that without losing my pension completely. From the point of view of the average person, (who knows nothing of my circumstances or the system) that might seem reasonable. And I could never get it back—how in the hell could you ever prove that a man who got off ODSP by writing, has somehow lost all ability to write and therefore needed to get back on again. If I took a fifty grand advance, I would be scrambling to get another one—and the sooner the better.

It really is kind of like someone advising you to win the lottery.

Simply put, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Some might suggest making up a resume.

Why not get a job, right?

What am I good for? Who would have me? Bear in mind you have to tell them something—and to lie to a potential employer is a real bad idea.

(What if I fell and hurt my back—who would be liable? I already have back injuries, what a field day the lawyers would have—assuming I could afford to get one. And what if I had been dumb enough to lie, and what if I had been dumb enough to tell the truth? What then, eh?) Simply put, if you want the job, you sort of have to lie about the back injuries.

Writing and publishing is what I’m good for, and not much more. But we know very well we’re not going to get an even break from the ODSP. If I took a job for thirty or forty grand a year with some Canadian publisher, there is a very good chance they would get all pissed-off. Even though I spent years, at my own expense and on my own time, with nothing but bullshit from the ODSP, to acquire the skills and the knowledge to succeed or even just to get off ODSP. They might very well ask for repayment of benefits, going back x-number of years. This would take away any benefit from working. I would essentially be trading one frying pan for another. Why work forty hours a week, with all the pressure that goes along with moving to Toronto, living in a fourteen-hundred dollar a month one-roomer somewhere, all for the privilege of saying I had a job—the exact same job that I have now.

Yeah--working myself into an early grave, to repay eighteen years of benefits....right?

My personal opinion is that to give up the pension for anything less than about $250,000.00 (cash on the barrel-head) would be pretty God-damned foolish. That’s because I have at least, somehow, managed to survive on ODSP for eighteen years.

To accept an advance, knowing that almost half would go back to the province that has made a game of ripping us off, is morally unacceptable.

They would do everything in their power to hound me into an early grave. I know, as I was well on my way to success when I operated a business doing commercial interior renovations and roofing part-time.

The ODSP staff drove me to the brink of suicide and that’s the sort of thing I will not forget.

If you are a major publisher and you have been wondering why I haven’t submitted anything in a while, well, now you have your answer.

I could write a book about the ODSP, but the average Canadian publisher would not want to publish that much truthiness. It reflects poorly on the system which has been pretty good to them.

Publishers have a certain power, and I too will acquire such powers.

At that point, I may be in a position to effectively lobby further on behalf of my fellow disabled Canadians.

In the meantime, I do what I can. I fit actions to words. This rather excellent blog post is an example of putting my precious time and my precious money, where my fucking mouth is.

Which is more than can be said for the ODSP and the bourgeoisie sometimes.


Incidentally, if you honestly believe that poor people can work their way out of poverty, then you might do me the honour of having a look at my other books and stories.

Please grab any free title that takes your fancy, (Amazon’s always price-matching somebody) and if you could leave a review, that would be positively lovely.

My plan is to take things slowly and think it through before I make any bone-head moves.

Strictly speaking, and thinking outside of the box, it is still theoretically possible to succeed in this business. If that ever happens, perhaps I will write a book on just exactly how that’s done…

Have a nice day and believe in yourselves.

No one else is going to do that for you, ladies and gentlemen.

(Okay, it’s over now. – ed )