Huffington Post’s Canadian edition yesterday published an investigative report by a team of student journalists from the University of King’s College detailing the housing crisis facing Nova Scotians with intelectual disabilities.
There is not enough room in the system for all of the people who need a place to live. They languish on waiting lists that are hundreds of names long. Their families, in turn, must support them with scant financial, caregiving or community programming resources. Eventually the families get too old or sick to do it, making the situation for their relatives in rehab even worse.
With so little room, placements are driven by crises. These crises, in turn, lead to inappropriate placements that only exacerbate individuals’ disabilities and sometimes cause mental health issues.
It is a bureaucratic system driven by policies, not people’s needs. And in the instances where policy would help to improve lives – in properly licensing, regulating, staffing and overseeing housing options – the system falls short.
Successive provincial governments have known all about this crisis and have repeatedly promised to fix it. The current NDP government is no exception.
After years of inaction, the Department of Community Services (DCS) recently produced a report — more accurately a discussion paper — about options for dealing with the crisis. The new document repeats sweeping promises of change, but DCS continues to ignore the findings of a 2001 report it commissioned that could have served as a basis for action 12 years ago.
“The Kendrick report is now over 10 years old and basically the fundamentals of the Kendrick report are no different now than … 10 years ago,” Dr. Brian Hennen, a past president of the College of Family Physicians of Canada, told the student journalists.
Jenn Power, Atlantic Regional Co-ordinator for l’Arche Cape Breton [and—disclosure—my daughter-in-law] summed up the crisis on her Possibilities blog.
[T]he primary struggles of the individuals profiled in the piece are not their disabilities per se, nor the way those disabilities might affect their mobility, learning skills, or emotional health. Instead, the suffering they endure arises from the way the provincial “support” system treats them as a result of their disabilities. They are reduced to their diagnoses, their difficult behaviours, their classification level. They languish on endless waiting lists with no idea of the future, then are hurried into last-minute crisis placements at warehousing facilities. They are forced to fit into an existing (outdated) system; the system is not expected to change to fit the needs of individuals.
This is not news to any of us who have friends or family members with intellectual disabilities, or who have been involved in this field for any length of time. Our people are overlooked, patronized, ignored, devalued, and abused. Their voices are not heard. But boy, do they have something to say.
At Nova Scotia’s l’Arche communities, and many other DCS-funded homes, bureaucratic rules often deepen the impact of disabilities, rather than lighten them. Here’s one of several examples Power cites:
Lindsay and Tanya, both of whom graduated from high school and hold down full time jobs, would say that they deserve the right to stay home alone and watch TV or read a book or relax on the couch for a couple of hours every now and then. But because they live in a provincially funded group home, they are denied this dignity of risk and are forced to join whenever their housemates leave the house.
Of the ways Darrell Dexter’s government failed to achieve its supporters’ aspirations, none is more disheartening than its failure to bring order, purpose, and humanity to the Department of Community Services. Will the next government do any better?