Friday, July 30, 2010
Silence from CLBC frightens people waiting for axe to fall
I met with three families recently who are frightened by the rumours they’re hearing about the group homes where some of their family members live. They’re not alone.
Back when B.C. was closing the big institutions like Woodlands and Glendale in the 1980s and 90s, group homes housing four to six people were touted as the way of the future for people with severe mental handicaps, and money-savers to boot.
But that was then. Now, the government is back looking for more savings. The group homes that families believed would always be there have suddenly become the focus for budget cuts at Community Living B.C., the five-year-old Crown agency charged with overseeing housing and support services for adults with developmental disabilities.
A shift away from group homes isn’t necessarily a bad thing if well-handled, at least not for residents with the potential to thrive in more independent housing. More than 2,700 CLBC clients already live outside of the group-home system in B.C., in foster- style arrangements known as “home shares.”
Ellen Tarshis - whose agency Community Living Victoria runs home shares as well as 15 of the region’s group homes - says the world is a changed place for the current generation of people with developmental disabilities, who have benefited from changed thinking and practises that let them participate in ways that previous generations never could. Many don’t need or want the intensive level of support and supervision provided in group homes.
But a group-home closure is a terrifying prospect for families like the ones I talked to, and not only because they’ve been shut out of the process so thoroughly that all they’ve got to go on are rumours and innuendo.
They’ve got stories to tell - about the bad things that can happen to vulnerable people in a poorly monitored home-share, about the years of troubled behaviour and poor health that finally ended when their loved one found a well-run, stable group home, about all the assurances that their family member would never have to move again . But they can’t find a receptive ear anywhere.
New Democrat MLA Nicholas Simons says group-home residents are in the process of being ranked by CLBC - in many cases without the knowledge of families or advocates - according to their level of disability. A dollar value is attached to each ranking representing how much CLBC is prepared to spend on people with that level of disability. Those who score below the level needed to keep their place in a group home will be moved.
Not that anyone is actually saying that out loud. According to CLBC communications, some group homes may close in coming years due to an aging population and people choosing “more person-centred and inclusive residential choices.” And some savings may be achieved down the line through service redesigns that embrace “more person-centred and cost-effective approaches.”
The reality is a little more pressing. CLBC and the mix of private and not-for-profit agencies that operate group homes have already struck a deal to identify residents who can be moved out. Plans are well underway.
So on the one hand, you’ve got Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman and CLBC chief Rick Mowles on record that nobody will be forced from group homes against their will. On the other, you’ve got families, advocates and residents who are completely in the dark about any of it, and unable to access even basic information about the redesign plans or the status of a specific group home.
“Families have been relegated to the role of bystander in one of the most important decisions of their lives,” says Simons, fresh from a successful fight in his Powell River-Sunshine Coast riding that prevented the closure of a local group home.
If a more independent style of housing gives people a richer life and saves money at the same time, then it’s an idea whose time has come.
But the government’s stated motives look just a little suspect considering the process is unfolding with no attempt to include those most affected by the changes.
Community supports and day programs are also being cut at the same time. Does that sound like something you’d do if you were genuinely committed to a better quality of life for people with developmental disabilities?
“Done properly, I think many people can lead even better lives than they are right now,” says Tarshis of home-sharing. Her agency is one of seven in the region already doing that work.
“But have I lost sleep over this? Yes, I have. There are things that I worry about.”