Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Corroding our Community from Within
There's a business out there that makes a living by corroding community. They've created a system through which the most vulnerable citizens pay exorbitant amounts of money for simple financial services.
You need only wander along Hastings Street any Welfare Wednesday to see whom I'm talking about. Below the yellow and red Money Mart sign, a long snake of desperate looking people line up waiting to cash their government assistance cheques and disability cheques for cash. "Who uses Money Mart? It could be you," says a banner hanging lazily above the non-descript store front. I certainly hope not.
As I wander by towards work, a man bombs by me. He navigates the street traffic like frogger. A car narrowly misses him as he clambers up the curb and into line. You can almost see the thought bubble above his rapidly moving heard, "almost there, almost turned this cheque in cash that I can spend on drugs/alcohol/other excessive substances".
The fact that Money Mart will charge him 3% on his cheque in addition to a cheque cashing fee will probably not bother him. He has more important things to worry about. However, if you do the math, Money Mart walks away with over $20 for each $600 BC government disability cheque it takes. That's a meal and half right there. During the early 20th century, there was a name for businesses which made money of the desperation of the community/nation. They were called profiteers.
For the working poor the Money Mart situation is even worse. For many, the quick payday loans are their last possible way of subsidizing life in between paycheques. Much like credit cards, people fall into a pattern of buying on credit. But unlike credit card companies which will run you a measly 16% interest (Note to reader, I do not REALLY think 16% is measly), Money Mart is alledged to charge interest (disguised as fees), which range from 60% up to 1000% (no that's not a typo - one thousand percent) of the customer's next paycheque. Don't believe it - check out the class action law suit already filed in Ontario.
So what does this have to do with community? Well to start, with 300 stores coast to coast, the Money Mart financial juggernaut is part of just about any urban community. We even have one on the Drive. Secondly, they are used by many of our most vulnerable citizens as the only way to live. Many people don't understand the effects of debt and how dangerous it can be. Money Mart preys on this ignorance like a parasite on an unsuspecting host.
Bankruptcy, depression, frustration, and financial ruin often follow. Harmonious community life, be it among family, friends, neighbours, or community members is difficult in such circumstances.