"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Monday, April 13, 2015

Time to Shake Things Up

UPDATE: It gives me great pleasure to advise that this complaint will get a hearing before a Board of Inquiry and the Disabiltiy Rights Coalition has been given standing to be added as a party. Kudos to all involved.

Anybody who has been reading here for any amount of time is quite familiar with my an ongoing love affair with the Dept. of Community Services (DCS). Don't believe me? Follow the link.

On that note, I was very pleased to (very) recently learn about the Human Rights Complaint that has been brought forward against the Services for Persons with Disabilities Disability Support program on behalf of three long-term residents of Emerald Hall.

As noted in Beth's story, Emerald Hall is intended to be an acute care in-patient unit serving clients who live with intellectual disabilities as well as complex mental and/or physical health issues. What Beth's story fails to mention is that Emerald Hall is designed to provide only temporary (up to three months) stabilization care for people who are living in the community.

Note this comment from Capital District Health's Capital District Mental Health Program Services page:
Emerald Hall supports adults living with a mental illness and developmental disability who are not able to live in the community either because of a lack of available resources or a need for intense support that is only available in hospital. Many of Emerald Hall’s current clients are long-term residents. As such its occupancy is almost always 100 per cent. However, crisis admission is sometimes available to registered clients.
(Emphasis added)
Long-term residents is one way to put in I guess - some of those "residents" have lived there for 13 years. That's right - 13 years. And that's not because it was considered medically necessary - these residents individuals have been medically discharged from the NS Hospital years ago but continue to reside there because DCS either can't or won't provide them with placement in the community.

"Sad situation, indeed", you say. "But what exactly does this have to do with my family?", you ask.

Good question. Deserves a good answer.

But before we get there, let me point out one more thing.  From the Chronicle Herald article:
A complaint over the province’s failure to provide supportive, community-based housing for people with disabilities has been accepted by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

“There has been an investigation and investigative report prepared,” Donna Franey, executive director of the Dalhousie Legal Aid Service, wrote in an email to the media late Friday.

“The report notes that ‘the existence of discrimination cannot be denied in this situation,’ yet the recommendation to the commission is dismissal of the complaint.”
Riddle me this, please. How is it even possible for a Human Rights Commission investigator to find that "the existence of discrimination cannot be denied in this situation", but then go on to recommend that the complaint be dismissed?

Is it just me or does that sound awfully strange to you too? Fortunately this story is far from over.

But back to you. And me. And your children. And mine.

This complaint, if successful, has the potential to shake up the SPD Disability Support program for all of us, in a very positive way. The crux of the case is the argument that the three complainants were discriminated against by being forced to stay in an institution, where they neither want nor need to be. That DCS discriminated against these individuals by providing assistance for people without disabilities, who are in need, to live in the community while failing for many, many years to take into account and accommodate their differing needs and offer supports for them to live in the community.

Can you imagine being forced to be live in a locked unit in a psychiatric hospital even though you neither wanted nor needed to stay in the hospital, let alone in a locked unit?

Can you imagine being unable to properly develop or receive an education, of being deprived of the chance to work, make and interact with friends and do any of the myriad of other things that you and I take for granted in the community?

How about being exposed to the problems of living in a psychiatric ward, including noise and the risk of violence on a daily basis?

Can you imagine your feelings if you were  repeatedly told that you would be found a home in the community but it never happened?

I can and it makes me shudder.

At this point, we can only hope and pray that reason and the rule of law will preside when the matter goes before the Commission for review and a decision is made on whether to dismiss the case or forward it to a board of inquiry.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

'Here To Help'

As part of Nova Scotia Legal Aid's (NSLA) current Strategic Direction ("Here to Help'), a new website has been launched. The idea is that some level of help is now available to all Nova Scotians in core areas of Family, Criminal and Social Justice.

I was at a Pro Bono Symposium last week in which this was touched upon and a few interesting points were made:
  1. the income limit under which a family/individual must fall in order to qualify for Legal Aid has risen; and
  2. for those who would still not qualify financially, service may be provided if the person "makes a [financial] contribution towards the payment of the costs of the legal services rendered".
In addition, no matter your income level, NSLA Offices are now providing summary advice service in relation to issues in relation to Canada Pension Disability, Employment Insurance, Income Assistance and Residential Tenancies issues.

Although individuals can contact their local office to make application for such summary advice, "Clinics" are now being offered across the Province*, such as 
  •      walk-in clinics the third Friday of every month in Yarmouth with respect to Landlord/Tenant Disputes, Canada Pension Plan Applications and Appeals, Social Assistance Appeals, Housing & Low Income Housing or Grant Applications, and Employment Insurance Appeals. The initiative is aimed at giving advice to people in the Yarmouth coverage area who simply need a few questions answered with respect to a legal issue but cannot wait 3-4 weeks for an appointment;
  •      questions or problems with CPP Disability, Income Assistance, Employment Insurance, Housing Grants, Landlord/Tenant relationships and Child Protection matters can be answered at the Spryfield Legal Aid Office on the first, second and fourth Tuesdays of the month; 
  •     similar initiatives are being offered in Eastern Chebucto and Sydney; and
  •     the NSLA Youth Justice Office is providing youth social justice service (school/school board issues, Department of Community Services and youth ombudsman assistance, Protection of Property Act concerns, housing and income security or any area in which a youth thinks NSLA can help with information, advocacy or representation) in both Spryfield and at Chebucto Connections on the third Tuesday of every month. Importantly, there is no financial qualification for youth summary advice so anyone aged 12 to 18 is welcome to stop by. 
I highly recommend checking out the new NSLA website, including the "Communtiy Resources" tab. And, of course, lest we forget, Dalhousie also offers Legal Aid services. 

* More details on all these clinics (including times and how to confirm an appointment) can be found on the website.