Summer is a well-spoken mother of two who led a middle-class life until a year before the filming. She fled an intimate relationship with the father of her second child after he became mentally, verbally, emotionally and financially abusive, controlling and manipulative. She was living on child support payments, with minimal financial benefits and health care coverage from social assistance. She lived in subsidized housing, and was battling with her ex-partner over custody and child support payments. Fortunately, her family in Toronto was able to give her financial and emotional support. Summer saw social assistance as a crutch to help her get through some difficult times. She desperately wanted to find a paid job, but could not do this without childcare. She felt there were too many obstacles in Kingston to start her own business, including poor transit routes and a ban on home-based businesses in the public housing where she lived.
Summer was born in Toronto and was working there when she met the man who became the father to her first child. They were engaged to be married, but Summer decided that their different cultural backgrounds left them with too many issues that she didn’t think they could resolve. She had her own cleaning business in Toronto, owned two condos and two cars, and was used to being able to shop for whatever she wanted.
She met the father of her second child in Toronto, and when he got a job in Kingston, they moved. He gradually became mentally, verbally, emotionally and financially abusive, controlling and manipulative. When her second child was a newborn, he screamed at her for hours and a neighbour called the police. Children’s Aid and Public Health got involved because there were children in the house. They recognized the signs of abuse and were able to smuggle information to Summer with emergency numbers for the local transition house.
Summer was astonished that anyone else could see that she was in an abusive relationship because she had no physical signs of abuse. Once she finally met with a member of the transition house staff, she realized that she couldn’t go back to live with him. But she struggled with her own ideas of whether what she endured was “real” abuse because she had never been physically abused. Others also doubted her, wondering if she was just being dramatic, including police, whom she had come to despise because they believed her ex-partner’s version of events and not hers. Summer felt she had to constantly fight her life-long sense of not being good enough as well as the extra layer of self-doubt and self-loathing that her ex-partner had added, even though her time living with him had been “a humiliating, debilitating, disgusting, and degrading experience.”
Summer and her two children lived at the transition house three months before she was able to get a townhouse in public housing. She wanted to move back to Toronto where she had family who could provide childcare, but she couldn’t do that because her daughter’s father wouldn’t allow it. On the other hand, she recognized how fortunate she was to live in Kingston because she was able to get affordable housing with a yard, good neighbours and lots of green space nearby. She found life in Kingston calmer, less hectic, and more affordable than Toronto.
Perhaps because of her middle class appearance, education and resources, and her conviction that being on social assistance was temporary, Summer found that she was well-treated by the staff at the social assistance office. They even offered her resources that she didn’t need. She attributed this to the way she presented herself. She expected to be treated well, and she was. She couldn’t believe what some of her friends put up with from Social Services staff. But she was also disparaging of people who walked into Social Services with a “gimme, gimme, gimme” attitude. She found it worked better for her to express appreciation for what she was getting (believing it to be temporary).
In between the time of the first and second filming, Summer had found childcare and was able to work as a dietary aid for the summer. She enjoyed the work, but resented being away from her children and having so little time with them. Transportation was also difficult, especially on Sundays when the buses didn’t run, and so she often ended up taking taxis, which ate into her budget. At the time of the second filming, she was heavily pregnant with her third child, conceived with a man who had also become abusive. She was hoping that she wouldn’t have to have anything to do with the new baby’s father, a soldier who was headed overseas.