Group home closures mock family intent

Parents of developmentally disabled group home residents should be forgiven if they think Premier Christy Clark’s “families first” mantra has a hollow ring.

Parents of developmentally disabled group home residents should be forgiven if they think Premier Christy Clark’s “families first” mantra has a hollow ring.

For the past week the media has been all over the systematic closure of group homes across B.C.

A plan to shut down a three-person home in Langley is typical. It is being done with little consultation with the parents and against their wishes.

Rick Mowles, CEO of Community Living BC (CLBC), writes on the Crown agency’s website about a state of perpetual “change movement.” He says “home sharing” is an option that “helps people live more inclusively in [the] community.”

Hang on just a minute — some of these disabled people have been in their group homes for many years and have bonded closely with their roommates. Now they are being unceremoniously yanked from that comfort zone and, in some cases, they are being parachuted into basement “apartments” back in the homes of their aging parents.

Does that sound like helping people to live more inclusively to you?

I tried to dig deeper into the CLBC website to learn more about the rationale for closing group homes and quickly discovered that I was playing a game of communications dodge ball.

Using CLBC’s search engine I found this disclaimer: “Group homes, where people with developmental disabilities live, are not being arbitrarily closed contrary to recent claims through the media. CLBC is providing opportunities for people seeking greater independence and inclusion in the community. To learn all the facts on matching services to people, please click the link below.”

The link took me to a government directory dominated by pretty pictures of B.C. scenery and no clear pathway to more information on group home closures. Another “listen” icon took me to a computer generated voice that repeated the written message and provided a URL that promised enlightenment but took me right back where I started.

If this website circle jerk is typical of how CLBC communicates its group home agenda, I’m not surprised parents are going to the media to voice shock and anger.

In the case of the Langley home, CLBC demanded that the operator take a pay cut. The operator refused so CLBC opted to close the home.

Ellen Tarshis, executive director of Community Living Victoria (funded by CLBC), recently issued the following telling statement: “With the new budget, there was only a one per cent increase for Community Living B.C. … There are growing waitlists for services, including families with children transitioning from high school who are being told there is nothing available for them. CLBC’s funding crisis has been brought up in the Legislature and the new Minister of Social Development (Harry Bloy) has tried to defend the budget. He invited the Opposition to send him information about the families and individuals waiting for service. It is a great opportunity for families who are waiting for services to email Minister Bloy: SD.Minister@gov.bc.ca.”

Don’t expect miracles. The minister is invisible these days. When he tried to defend closures in the Legislature his exchange with the Opposition was so inept that I expected Bloy’s Liberal colleagues to start covering their heads with brown paper bags.

Bloy has claimed that government does not force disabled people to move. But that is as disingenuous as it is misleading. And, it is making a mockery of “families first.” M

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