Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic’s mandate is to help low-income people

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As a child, Joan Henry looked forward to taking drives with her parents and brothers on weekend afternoons. She loved being on the road and exploring new places. After high school Joan decided to become a truck driver.

She got her Class D driver’s licence and drove smaller trucks for about two years until she married Rick at the age of 21. They had two children early on, but the thrill of the open road again beckoned her. Joan wanted to drive the big rigs.

She also wanted to help with the family income. Five years after their youngest child was born Joan decided to get her Class AZ driver’s licence. She enjoyed driving the transport trucks.

Joan and Rick bought a home outside town with a big lot where she could park her truck. Unfortunately, when he was 35, Rick began to experience mental health issues. He became irritable and erratic, and started taking drugs.

Rick and Joan’s marriage suffered. One day, Rick left a message on the kitchen table: “going west”. Joan never heard from him again.

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Joan took extra truck runs so that she could pay all the bills and the mortgage.

About a year after Rick left, Joan began to experience extreme fatigue and unexplained pain throughout her body. Joan kept driving – she had two young teenagers to provide for. In the evenings she struggled not to cry at the desperation she felt.

It was unclear what was making Joan sick. One specialist said it was likely fibromyalgia. After another five months, Joan was fired from her job.

She had missed several days of work because there were some mornings that she could barely get out of bed. After her Employment Insurance benefits ended, Joan had no choice but to apply for Ontario Works (Welfare). She also applied for Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) benefits.

Eventually Joan lost her home because she couldn’t make the mortgage payments. Joan found a small house to rent but the monthly payments stressed her budget. She had to turn to the food bank for groceries.

The house was in disrepair but it was all she could afford. For 40 years now the Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic has served low-income people like Joan. Staff members were able to help Joan with an employment law claim, with the initial denial of ODSP benefits, and with maintenance issues at her rental house. (To protect her privacy, “Joan Henry” is a fictitious name.)

The clinic helps low-income Chatham-Kent residents with matters relating to employment law, Employment Insurance, Ontario Works, ODSP denials, Wills, Powers of Attorney, and Landlord and Tenant issues. Our staff also provide advice and assistance about other legal matters including sexual harassment in the workplace. Although the clinic only has a mandate to represent low-income people, we strive to inform all members of the public about their legal rights.

See our website at www.cklc.ca. Starting with this column, CKLC staff will contribute to the Legal Rights Bulletin every other week. —

Walter Van de Kleut, CKLC executive director, can be reached at www.cklc.ca, 519-351-6771