Published Monday, June 4, 2018 12:51PM ADT
Last Updated Monday, June 4, 2018 7:58PM ADT
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s government used “ableist” reasoning when it closed a program that provided supported housing for people with intellectual disabilities, a nationally recognized expert on disability rights testified Monday.
Catherine Frazee, professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s school of disability studies, told a human rights inquiry Monday that a freeze on creating “small options” supported housing in the early 1990s stemmed from a form of discrimination similar to sexism or racism.
Small-options homes are small housing units, usually with three or four residents, where day-to-day support is provided to people with intellectual disabilities to allow them to live in their community.
Frazee argued the freeze on creating the homes meant residents could be condemned to live in their aging parents’ basements, in abusive arrangements, or “far down the corridors of institutional abandonment.”
Frazee, who uses a wheelchair, repeatedly referred to the policy as “ableist,” meaning a bias where the needs of people who may lack some mental and physical abilities aren’t given the same regard as the non-disabled majority.
The issue of the small-options homes and their availability has been at the heart of the ground-breaking human rights hearing that has heard 14 days of testimony before chairman J. Walter Thompson.
The inquiry is considering whether the Department of Community Services violated the Human Rights Act by housing Joseph Delaney and Beth MacLean in a hospital-like, institutional setting at the Emerald Hall psychiatric ward in Halifax for over a decade.
Their years of waiting have occurred despite psychiatrists having medically discharged them and recommended a home in the community.
For Frazee, a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the moratorium on small-options homes was “an expression of an austerity logic,” and based largely on a drive to save money.
However, the province has said its policy has shifted and it is now attempting to provide more small options homes to people with intellectual disabilities who have been living in institutions.
Joe Rudderham, the executive director of the Disability Supports Program, said since he’s been the director his program has been working to create new small option homes, and there is no longer a moratorium.
“We have eight on the go for the next year,” he said in an interview after the hearings concluded for the day.
“Small option homes is one option in our array of supports and services,” he said, adding there are also programs that help people live on their own or with the support of their families.
As of early March, there were 504 people awaiting some form of support from the Department of Community Services, and 1,024 people awaiting a transfer to a different housing option or location.
Frazee, a former chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said in a written report provided to the inquiry that the Nova Scotia freeze directly led to the current-day backlogs.
She also testified the government policy made the problem appear to the public as one that was too expensive to fix, leading citizens to lose sight of the original flawed philosophy that created the waiting lists.
“The size of the problem becomes the problem itself,” she said.
She also argued there has been a human cost to taking away the possibility of small-options homes and placing people in large institutions.
“The research is clear and uncontested that institutional arrangements that … cause great psychological and in many cases physical harm to people,” she said.
Frazee told her own personal story of how she lived in an institution as a girl, explaining how it was only when she was placed in the school system that she learned to direct her own life.
She said people who could not hear were employed to be “pushers” of children in wheelchairs at her institution, and therefore she was unable to tell them where she wished to go.
“It’s important to understand how deeply thwarted our natural development is by segregation. When we isolate people … year after year after year, the muscles of self expression atrophies,” she testified.
Rudderham said his department has a commitment to move away from larger facilities.
In the last provincial budget, the Liberal government announced that there is an additional $2.1 million to help create small options homes and group homes.
The Department of Community Services has said there’s $16.2 million in additional funding to support the transitions, with about $10 million to cope with a fresh influx of people into the province’s disability programs.
However, the Community Homes Action Group has argued in a recent letter to the province’s finance minister that the pace of creating new community homes is too slow.
The group has recommended to the finance minister that to keep up with the pace of demand, at least 25 new small options homes are needed each year for the next three years.
Human rights complaint alleges N.S. fails to provide suitable housing
The Human Rights Commission Hearing on the Human Rights complaint put forward by Nova Scotia Legal Aid (over the province’s failure to provide community-based supportive housing for two women and one man with intellectual disabilities who have been living in locked wards of institutions for decades because no other options have been provided for them) begins with opening statements Monday, February 5, at 9:30 am at the Chocolate Lake Best Western Hotel, Saint Margaret’s Bay Road (up from Armdale Rotary). Please try to attend.
The complaint is based on the premise that these people have been incarcerated because they are economically disadvantaged and have a mental disability. If the only issue facing them was economic disadvantage, they would be eligible for social assistance as a right and would be able to make lives for themselves in their communities.
The complainants (including the Disability Rights Coalition of which PEOPLE FIRST NOVA SCOTIA is a member) make the case that the introduction of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act in 1986 prohibited discrimination against people with physical and mental disabilities, yet the province has continued to discriminate against persons with developmental disabilities in need and in receipt of social assistance. That they have failed to provide adequate, community based supportive housing for persons with disabilities which has led to unnecessary detention in institutional settings and harm to individuals through loss of life choices, exclusions, segregation, mental, psychological and at times physical harm.
This case is central to all of our efforts to advance the quality of life and human rights of people with disabilities. Please spread the word and try to attend. Media will be present and it could provide us with opportunity to speak out about “where’s the hope?” in light of this systemic discrimination and in the face of the critical lack of community based supportive housing for our loved ones with disabilities.
Best Western PLUS Chocolate Lake Hotel
- Feb 5
- Feb 13-14
- Feb 20-21
- Feb 26-28
- March 1-2
- March 5-8
- March 12, 13+14
- June 4-7
- June 11-15
For more context see the following articles from 2014 when the human rights complaint began.
Nova Scotia Budget Talks
The Minister of Finance, Karen Casey, has sent out a public notice soliciting feedback by February 23, 2018 on where to “make investments in quality health care, in the classroom, to make communities stronger, and to grow the economy.”
This is a perfect opportunity for people to write letters, tweet, Facebook or email their concerns about growing waitlists for community based housing, the lack of progress on implementing the Roadmap for Transforming the Nova Scotia Services to Persons with Disabilities program, the sense of hopelessness families and individuals are feeling that their rights to community based supportive housing are being denied. The key message is – Implement the Roadmap, make the necessary and overdue investments needed in community based supportive housing capacity to make our communities truly stronger and inclusive and give hope to the hundreds of individuals and thousands of their family members in Nova Scotia waiting for choice, equality and good lives in inclusive communities.
In your letters, tweets, emails feel free to share personal stories as well. The more input from our community, the better! Write, tweet, Facebook, email the Minister of Finance by February 23.
Email (mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Twitter (http://twitter.com/nsfinance) (@nsfinance)
Letters: Send a submission to Karen Casey, Minister of Finance and Treasury Board. Please address it to Budget Talks, Department of Finance and Treasury Board, P.O. 187, Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 2N3
To learn about the Roadmap click on this link of an interview with NSACL Executive Director, Jean Coleman, from September 2013, when she was filled with hope about the Roadmap.