Friday, October 08, 2010
It's cruel and stupid to close group homes
The provincial government can dance all it likes, and certainly has, around the sticky issue of whether it’s closing group homes for people with developmental disabilities.
But it is. So let’s give up this crazy pretence that B.C. isn’t closing group homes, when the fact is that anyone with an ear to the ground knows it’s already well underway. I mean, come on, guys - the least you can do is be honest.
Here’s Housing and Social Development Minister Rich Coleman in the legislature April 13, as captured in Hansard during a strategically worded cat-and-mouse game on the subject with New Democrat MLA Shane Simpson.
“We don't do forced moves, if that's what the member is getting to,” Coleman told Simpson. “We do, though, sometimes, when we have a redesign or have to have a repositioning with regards to our facilities, work extensively with the families and the advocates to walk them through what other opportunities are available in addition to maybe moving to another facility, if there's a capacity issue.”
Whatever that tongue-twister means, you can see now that he was already parsing things carefully to clear the way for government and Community Living B.C. to cut $22 million in spending. (He’s also caught in a lie, because forced moves are happening.)
CLBC savings are to come from phasing out group homes and cutting support services. I heard a heartbreaking story of a fellow who has gone to “work” with great enthusiasm for 20 years now at a program that fills his days, but will soon have nowhere to go.
The government likes to portray the issue as being more about having to spread the same amount of expenditure out over an ever-larger group of people and families who really need the help, as opposed to cutting services. It’s a “capacity issue,” as Coleman noted in April.
Whatever. Call it what you will, group homes are closing and services are being cut for people who are completely vulnerable without the right supports. Anyone who cares about rights, fairness, homelessness, abuse prevention, health-care costs down the road or even just plain human decency ought to be completely up in arms about what’s going on for people with developmental disabilities.
Mental illness and mental handicaps get mixed up all the time in the public’s mind. What I’m talking about here are people with low IQs, for all the reasons that such things happen. They often have physical disabilities as well, and some have mental illness complicating things.
I get the government’s point that they’re a drain on the public purse. Then again, so is the government itself, and all the rest of the vast public and political functions we pay for.
Smart government isn’t about singling out specific groups of people for misery because they cost us more. It’s about priorizing spending in ways that best satisfy voters while not burdening future generations with the fruits of our screwups. How does the stupid cruelty of cutting services to people with developmental disabilities benefit anyone?
The Victoria Foundation’s Vital Signs report this week highlighted the priority our region puts on social care. But if we really mean it, we should be jumping up and down right now on behalf of people with developmental disabilities.
We’re not talking big numbers. All told, just a third of the 36,000 British Columbians with developmental disabilities get any help from CLBC, and only 2,400 live in group homes.
The theory is that people moved out of their group homes will go onto enriched lives in a less structured, more independent housing arrangement. A few group homes may linger on, but they’re no longer an option for new people coming into the CLBC system.
The whole thing has been done extremely quietly, and perhaps it would have all been a done deal by now were it not for a few anguished cries from family members of those getting the boot from the homes where they’ve lived contentedly for years, even decades. That government and CLBC seem surprised to have encountered resistance just underlines the disconnect with the real world.
British Columbians ought to be celebrating the network of group homes and day programs built by previous generations of taxpayers who invested in a better future for people with developmental disabilities. Do we want to be the generation remembered for tearing it apart for fleeting savings?
It’s wrong, and shameful. But families can’t win this on their own. Learn more at www.momsnetwork.ca, and add some muscle to an important issue.