Jen Powley

A letter signed by dozens of groups on behalf of more than 1,300 disabled adults waiting for housing called on the McNeil government Thursday to back up its earlier promise to find homes in the community for people who are needlessly institutionalized.

Premier Stephen McNeil told journalists the “work is ongoing; we continue to work on it every day.” He then rejected a formal written request from the Disability Rights Coalition to “legislate a multi-year funding commitment to increase capacity in the community and close institutions.”

“What has been promised is not good enough,” said Barb Horner, chair of the Disability Rights Coalition. “It’s shameful.”

Frustrations were running high at the news conference held at Province House yesterday. Many people in wheelchairs wore buttons emblazoned with the words  “8 is NOT Enough.” Eight is the number of small options homes that have been promised in the past three provincial budgets: two homes are open and six are still in the planning stages.

“Eight” represents only a fraction of the homes recommended in the 2013 report that was later publicly endorsed by Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard and the McNeil government following the 2014 election. The report is called “Roadmap for Choice, Inclusion and Good Lives.” It recommends a phased-in approach to housing disabled adults with a target of opening 75 small option homes by 2023.

Retired family physician Brian Hennen contributed to that report as part of the Community Homes Action Group. He says costing out the implementation of those recommendations was not part of the mandate. In his view, “the payoff” or benefit will come to the communities where disabled adults are able to make their home and participate in daily life.

“There are hundreds of people with disabilities still waiting for community housing. The government’s response so far has been inadequate,” said NDP Community Services spokesperson Susan Leblanc. “It is disappointing that the recent budget only continues to promise the same eight community option homes.”

There was no new money in last month’s provincial budget to assist disabled adults find supportive housing outside institutions. This despite a recent ruling by lawyer Walter Thompson, appointed by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission to conduct a Board of Inquiry. After five months of painstaking hearings, he determined the province had unfairly discriminated against three adults who spent decades locked in Emerald Hall at the Nova Scotia Hospital when their needs could have been met through assisted living arrangements. Either those arrangements did not exist or they were not developed.

Thompson refused to extend the ruling to include other disabled adults, saying each case must be considered on its own merits. Yesterday, advocates for People First Nova Scotia (a group representing intellectually disabled adults) and the Disability Rights Coalition expressed disappointment with that ruling. They also encouraged people who have been waiting for housing for years to file individual complaints with the Human Rights Commission.

Jen Powley is a 41-year-old woman who has Multiple Sclerosis. She relies on a wheelchair and had to resign from her job at the Ecology Action Centre in 2013 after the disease robbed her vocal cords. Stephen Kimber wrote about Powley’s circumstances here.

Powley requires 24/7 care, which she says costs about $100,000 a year. She remains a tireless advocate, using a computer-assisted device to make her voice heard through words on a screen. Powley noted there are currently 240 adults with severe physical disabilities who are 18-60 years old and living in nursing homes because there are no alternatives.

“Six years after the Roadmap was adopted, the 10-year plan for implementation is still only in the initial stages. That’s not good enough,” said Powley, who is co-chair of the group No More Warehousing. “Discrimination, you say? You better believe it! This is a gross violation of human rights in our province.”

“We are calling on the government to keep its promise and set our people free,” said Jeanne Whidden, a woman with intellectual disabilities and a spokesperson for People First.

Donnie MacLean. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

The news conference started 10 minutes late to accommodate a meeting between Premier McNeil and one of his constituents. Donnie MacLean is a man with intellectual disabilities who has met the premier before. MacLean says he was reassured by promises from the premier today that McNeil is working to deliver “supervised apartments” and “in a year or so, he’ll be getting people out one at a time.” MacLean says the premier promised to meet with him again after he returns from a trip overseas beginning this May.

Other advocates are tired of talk and promises without timelines. Today, many demanded action and a commitment from government to implement a report it previously accepted. They didn’t get it. The premier says it takes time to find “sustainable” homes for people with disabilities and work is ongoing.  Powley says since the Roadmap for Choice was approved, the housing wait list for disabled adults has actually grown by 50%.

“Warehousing is a violation of fundamental human rights and we are demanding justice,” Powley said.

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. We have how many millions of dollars for a misbegotten convention centre and the same for a stadium but to give 1300 people some dignity – “we continue to work on it everyday.”

    What a wretched human being our premier is.