Parents, advocates rally against Community Living funding cuts

Elva Webber wasn't sure what to do. She was standing in the middle of her first rally, getting jostled by reporters, photographers, cameramen and politicians from two levels of government all jockeying for position outside Community Living B.C.'s Kamloops office.

"I've never done this before," said the petite elderly woman, as she watched the crowd.

Webber was part of a small group of parents and supporters who gathered outside 275 Lansdowne St. Friday morning to talk about funding cuts to programs and services for special needs adults.

If they knew little about staging a rally, they knew everything about the issue they were there to protest.

"Mentally challenged and developmentally delayed people in Kamloops are not just names on a page," said Mona Banek, whose 49-year-old son, Robert, is severely challenged with Downs Syndrome.

Robert lives in a group home, the same one he's been in since age 30 when his parents could no longer care for him on their own.

Banek says funding cuts from Community Living B.C. continue to threaten her son's future.

"The group homes now have very well trained, professional caregivers and we're so concerned that if the funding is cut they won't be able to hire people who are qualified," said Banek.

"Without really good, high-quality caregivers, health and safety will be compromised."

Community Living B.C. (CLBC) is a Crown agency whose responsibility is to provide services to the developmentally disabled.

It was created seven years ago with the promise that it would improve the lives of families caring for special needs children and adults.

But the agency has come under fire recently for paying $300,000 a year in incentive bonuses to executives and employees at a time when it is closing group homes and cutting day programs and other services.

Alicia Viner has experienced the cuts first hand. She's 24 and lives in a home share program. She has two support workers who help her with daily living.

About a year ago, CLBC cut funding for one of her workers, which meant her weekly support hours with that worker dropped to 15 from 25.

"It's just not fair, it isn't," said Viner, who held a sign at the rally that read Real People, Real Needs.

And Viner is one of the lucky ones, said her support worker Teresa Davies, who accompanied her to the rally.

Davies helps several families who have special needs children and has watched as funding has been cut when her clients turn 19.

"It is absolutely despicable what they do to my families," she said.

"They have taken $200 for respite for families and cut that. . . . Alicia is lucky she gets 15 hours (of support). I've got three other clients who turn 19 and don't get funding. They're just thrown out there."

B.C.'s Minister of Social Development has promised to investigate the problem-plagued CLBC. Last week, Stephanie Cadieux said a team of "high-ranking" officials in her ministry and the Ministry of Children and Family Development will work with CLBC to resolve the issues.

Still, critics are skeptical.

MLA Nicholas Simons is the NDP critic for the ministry. He made a special trip to Kamloops to attend the rally.

"The issue is not really being heard loud enough," said Simons.

"The crisis hasn't just happened in the last three weeks, it's been happening for some time, and we've seen the evidence in cuts to day programs, employment programs, home share, individualized funding for family support. What people notice is the group home closures but it's a lot more than that."

CLBC officials in the Kamloops office had no comment about the rally, instead referring all media inquires to the agency's external relations advisor, Kate Chandler.

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