“We are facing a housing crisis for adults with developmental disabilities, [and] I want our city to collaborate together and work on a solution,” said North Bay mother Linda Thomas-Ouellette, who’s planning a September 20th rally.
She wants to draw attention to the lengthy waitlist for residential supports for people, including her 18-year-old son, Christopher. Thomas-Ouellette is worried what will happen when he doesn’t have the support of his family anymore. She’s hoping to have dozens of people attend her rally next month.
“I’ll be 78 in 10 years,” she lamented. “Who knows what kind of shape I’m going to be in. I could be dead. Where’s my son going to go?”
Though not directly affiliated with a similar rally planned by mother Mary-Beth Rocheleau on September 22nd in Windsor, the two women are holding the events close together to show unity.
The upcoming rallies also follow a family rally at Queen’s Park in May, which was hosted by Windsor West MPP and NDP Critic for Community and Social Services Lisa Gretzky. Rocheleau helped organize the event and Thomas-Ouellette drove down from North Bay with her family to attend.
All three rallies also share the same name—Nowhere to Turn—which was the title of the Ontario Ombudsman’s 2016 report that detailed the crisis many adults who have an intellectual disability and their families face in Ontario. The report made 60 recommendations to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Minister Helena Jaczek pledged her Ministry would adopt every recommendation.
“The most outstanding thing about the Ombudsman’s report,” Thomas-Ouellette described, “was the fact that he was so outraged with Community and Social Services that he actually ordered them to do a six-month check-in to let that office know how they are [responding to] his recommendations. That was outstanding.”
However, she’s not impressed with the progress that the Ministry has made so far, saying “I believe they’re doing the very minimal amount that they have to.”
Thomas-Ouellette circulated a petition for more residential spaces through her local MPP’s office, and received what she described as a ‘standard government response.’ She’s also frustrated that the government has made funding available to agencies in North Bay to improve their office space, but hasn’t allocated any money to address housing.
“17 years, one family has been waiting for their family member to have an apartment,” she decried, “to have a space…somewhere to live with supports.”
Thomas-Ouellette urged the community to see the gifts that people who have a developmental or intellectual disability can provide.
“Christopher has a marvelous sense of humour. One young lady has the brightest smile and the most positive outlook. They have things that they can contribute to this community, and they should be able to do that,” she added.
“In a perfect world, we would have our community join together—the builders, the movers, the shakers, the government—looking at ways to solve the crisis.”
One solution, she suggested, is dedicating a certain percentage of future housing development to inclusive living spaces.
“The other thing, for an outcome, that I would really like to see is to encourage the parents—to let them know that there is hope in the future,” said Thomas-Ouellette.
“You shouldn’t have to abandon your child and leave them on the doorstep of Community Living.”
The September 20th rally in North Bay will take place from 11 to 1 outside of City Hall, while the September 22nd event in Windsor will run from 11:30 to 1 at the Ministry of Community and Social Services office, 270 Erie Street East.
Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario