Approximately 15 self-advocates and their families held a demonstration protesting Ontario’s exceedingly long wait list for residential supports and the inaccessibility of government services at a pancake breakfast at the Stouffville Strawberry Festival on Canada Day. It was co-hosted by MP Jane Philpott, Stouffville Mayor Justin Altman and Dr. Helena Jaczek, Minister of Community and Social Services.
Demonstration organizer Sharon Gabison stated that the protest was held in response to Minister Jaczek’s unwillingness to meet with self-advocates and their families to discuss the ongoing crisis in residential supports and inaccessibility of government services.
“We showed up, had some pancakes and strawberries, introduced ourselves (to the Minister) and told her that there were some parents who have been trying to meet with her for the past year to discuss these issues.”
Gabison added that demonstrators “were not there to talk about problems. We were there to talk about solutions and potential solutions for how to deal with the crisis.”
The demonstrators’ concerns focused on the need to invest more money into residential supports and ensuring that government services are accessible to all people. At present, people who have an intellectual disability can expect to spend upwards of 20 years waiting.
Linda Thomas Ouellette, who was not in attendance on Canada Day, is planning a rally in North Bay for this September to draw further attention to the waiting list for residential supports and inaccessibility of government services. She said the waiting list is a product of the Government of Ontario ignoring the issue.
“The latest budget will hardly put a dent in the housing crisis. So, what’s going to happen is the waiting lists are going to get longer and (the crisis) is going to be insurmountable.”
For Ouellette, the possibility of her 18-year-old son receiving residential supports sometime in the next decade seems “like a pie in the sky dream, when it shouldn’t be.”
A key theme at the Canada Day demonstration was the need for collaboration between people, families and instruments of government. Gabison believes that the absence of cooperation and dialogue between ministries in Ontario has contributed to the crisis.
She adds people are often forced to jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops when attempting to access programs as adults and often lose a substantial level of financial support upon turning 18. Gabison believes that Ontario must employ administrative strategies from other jurisdictions, in order to alleviate many of the bureaucratic concerns encountered by young adults who have an intellectual disability.
“There are various workable models around the world, and we need to bring some of these successful models into play.”
This collaboration must also be inter-ministerial and involve all levels of government, according to Ouellette.
“You can get a lot of money from the government through the Ministry of Community Services to address these issues. However, you also need to involve municipalities, special needs groups. It works better if you have collaboration from everyone.”
Ouellette has been encouraging this inter-governmental collaboration in North Bay, where she has been in contact with representatives from the Ministry of Community and Social Services there, in addition to MPP Vic Fidelli and Mayor Al McDonald.
She believes this collaboration is of the utmost importance because “it takes a whole community to raise a child, and with a child who has special needs, even more so.”
Both Gabison and Ouellette contend that the lack of residential supports is not an issue that should only concern self-advocates and their families, but rather one that should concern the entire community.
Ouellette is hoping to engage her community in North Bay this September by holding the rally at City Hall, in which self-advocates and their families will share their stories and hopefully put a face to the numbers.
Dubbed Nowhere to Turn, the rally will take place at Ledger Square from 11 to 1 on Wednesday, September 20th. Additional information can be found on the event’s Facebook page.
Spencer Jacklin, Community Living Ontario