Disability advocates call for more community-living support
Advocates call for 75 new small-options homes in Nova Scotia to address need
Jen Powley wants a different future than what's staring her in the face.
The 41-year-old Halifax resident was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was 15 and moved to Nova Scotia from Alberta at 23. She's needed 24/7 support for the last decade and, in 2013, was forced to stop work.
Her parents in Alberta have sold off family farmland through the years to finance her care, but can no longer afford the $100,000-a-year costs. She now faces the prospect of having to move out of her apartment and live in a nursing home.
She isn't alone.
Powley, the co-president of a group called No More Warehousing, said there are 240 people with severe disabilities between the ages of 18 and 60 living in nursing homes in Nova Scotia and an estimated 600 more living in other types of institutions.
On Thursday, she and other advocates gathered at Province House to call on the government to live up to a 2013 commitment to clear wait-lists for community-living options and to empty institutions by 2023 of people capable of living outside them.
Several speakers noted that despite multiple reports through the years calling for change, there has been little action.
The current government announced plans in 2017 for eight new small-options homes, which are housing units of up to four residents who are provided day-to-day support. Two of the homes are complete, two will open this year and the other four have gone to tender.
By comparison, the Community Homes Action Group estimates meeting the 2023 goal would require at least 25 new small-options homes a year for three years.
"Let's face it, government ministers have been saying the same thing for more than 20 years," said Powley. "We need action, not words."
Susan Leblanc, the NDP community services critic, said the issue has renewed prominence after the recent finding by a human rights board of inquiry that the Nova Scotia government violated the rights of three people with physical and mental disabilities who were forced to live in institutions because there were no other options available.
Leblanc called on the government to make the investments necessary to get supports in place, not just in terms of physical spaces but also services people might need to be able to live in the community.
'Alone and isolated'
Barbara Horner, of the Disability Rights Coalition, said there also needs to be recognition of aging and senior parents who continue to support their adult sons and daughters at home.
"They are alone and isolated and often simply give up," she said. "No one is in a caregiver role longer than parents who have disabilities; it is lifelong, with little recognition or validation for the role we play."
Horner, who noted the existing problems date back through successive governments to the 1990s, said she and others are disappointed and frustrated with the lack of progress under the McNeil Liberals.
"What government has promised to date, at this point, is not enough. Eight small-option homes is not enough — it's not good enough. It's shameful."
'We are doing it'
Community Services Minister Kelly Regan said the government is "working very hard to make sure that we move people out into community as quickly as we can."
She cautioned, however, that it's a long process to close facilities, open new homes and make sure supports are in place.
"We're committed to making this happen, it just doesn't happen overnight," she said. "We have to make sure that we have staff training in place. We have to make sure we have all the supports that they need to succeed and then we can do that."
About 1,000 people are on the wait-list right now for a place in a small options home. Regan said the government has announced new funding for transitional programs for young people to help them before they become adults as well as money for small-options homes for children.
The minister acknowledged nursing homes might not be the appropriate place for people younger than 60.
"I would say that most of us would prefer to be with people who are of a similar age and we are continuing to work on that issue."
Regan also acknowledged multiple governments have put off dealing with the issue.
"We are doing it."
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