MADAM CHAIR: Welcome. My name is Maureen MacDonald, and I am the MLA for Halifax-Needham, and the Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Community Services. It is very nice to be here, and it is very nice to see so many people come out tonight to participate in this process of helping us understand what is occurring with respect to social welfare issues in your community, and the kinds of concerns or issues that you would like to see addressed, and the ways in which you think that we can improve on our social welfare system.
The process that we have been using as we have been going around the province is one where we start the evening by introducing the members of the committee. They introduce themselves to you, and we have an order in which people will be asked to come forward and make their presentations. At any time, if there are additional people who haven't indicated that they would like to speak to the committee, because we would like to hear from everybody who has ideas and points of view that they want presented, then you can go and still get on the list of people to talk to us, by speaking with the lady over here. We will make time for that to occur.
We try to keep the process as informal as possible, so that people will feel comfortable doing whatever it is that they feel most comfortable doing. Some groups have prepared written briefs, and if you feel comfortable reading from them, that is fine. If you want to hit the highlights or summarize what you have written, that is fine. And if you have no written brief, that is fine as well. If you are just going to come and speak, sort of spontaneously, that is fine also.
After a group or an individual makes their presentation, then members of the committee take some time to ask you questions, maybe to develop points that you have raised, or ask you to comment on them in a more detailed way, or maybe they will ask you other questions that you haven't raised possibly, for your views. Essentially, that is the process we use.
I will start now and ask members of the committee to introduce themselves, and I would like to mention that Mr. Balser isn't here right now. He is the MLA for Digby-Annapolis, but he will be joining us, so I won't interrupt the process for another introduction when he comes. So you will be aware of that.
MR. JAMES MUIR: One other comment which I will make, everything is being taped. It is kind of like being in the House. When you do come up, would you please ensure that you speak into one of the microphones.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIR: The other thing I will say is that the tables we have are small tables with little spaces in between. Because these microphones are so sensitive and they pick up every little noise, and because our friend has earphones on, if we click these tables together in any way, we may break the eardrums of our recorder, so try not to move those tables together when you come forward to the table. Occupational health and safety requirement.
Without taking any more time, we will start with the presentation from the Schizophrenia Society, Sheila Watson, and Matthew and Ellen Policha. Good evening.
MS. SHEILA WATSON: I speak to you as a parent of a son with schizophrenia, and as a member of our local support group, also as a member of the New Attitude Program. We believe people with mental disabilities that make them unlikely to find full-time employment should be provided with an individualized level of support, such as our local clubhouse wants to supply. Perhaps you are unaware of the disabling effects of schizophrenia that the person with schizophrenia has. It is to psychiatry, what cancer is to medicine. A sentence as well as a diagnosis. Even if these people are on their medications, they need special support and are unlikely to be able to find full-time employment. They need daily living skills, recreational, social opportunities and the best treatment available.
Our clubhouse is trying to provide this service, but after the Western Regional Health Board helped us to get this excellent program set up, it now says it cannot complete the job, such as giving us a proper kitchen or finishing the flooring, et cetera. Staff has been told that they cannot raise money, so no stable funding is available or adequate staff being provided for the potential of 30 people or more. Believe you me, living with and caring for a mentally ill person takes strength beyond your imagination, if you haven't tried to do it. Here is a program that works. Let's finish the job.
As a member of New Attitudes, I have heard a client who lives alone stress how the clubhouse is his "best friend", and on hearing the voices in his head, which is part of this illness, has looked at a butcher knife and considered ending his life, but said no, I couldn't let my friends at the clubhouse down. When 10 per cent of people with schizophrenia commit suicide, I think you should consider this well.
As far as our provincial society goes, you cannot imagine how desperate a family member is for information when you first learn of the illness. Physicians and psychiatrists do not have much time to spend explaining this to family members. I would have been in the psych ward myself, if I had not found our local support group, where I got the information packet and other information that I needed.
A few years ago, our provincial office nearly closed for lack of funds. They had to call in money from local chapters, of which there are about six in Nova Scotia. We should not be reduced to selling raffle tickets and cashing in cash register tapes to finance such an important program. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Maybe we will have the other two presenters, and then we will talk to you all as a group.
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: My name is Matthew Policha, my wife Ellen. We are both retired, past retirement quite a ways. We have taken in a 90 year old mother and a son whom she has cared for since 1961, as a schizophrenic patient. This was in the Province of Saskatchewan. We moved to Nova Scotia in 1968, and last year, we took both mother and Michael into our own home. We had no children. We ran a business successfully, but as far as adjusting to a 90 year old person who is guilt ridden with a schizophrenic son, and all the family dynamics that work with that, to have somebody like that in our home is very difficult for you to describe or even to comprehend, unless you actually experience it. It is somewhat like death. Try to explain how to console someone when you experience a death, particularly of a mate.
I have no brief. I am going to rely very much on questions that you want to know. I don't want to exaggerate a situation, but the simplest way that I could compare it is, if you had a radio on that talked nonsense from the time you get up and well into the night sometimes, because he can't sleep, and tries to be present with people, because he wants to socialize and to live with that is very difficult. I can forcibly remove him at times. I have used all my human ingenuity to try to keep him occupied. The clubhouse arrangement that we have tried to institute here again is inadequate for his particular needs. He has been just sitting at home and causing us no end of stress. It is not a financial question, but it definitely is an emotional question. It got to the point where we had to receive marital counselling in order to avoid divorce court. It certainly brought out the inadequacies of us as personalities, and we worked on them, and fortunately worked on our marriage to keep it intact. It was no credit to any outside intervention or help.
Everything that I learned about schizophrenia was virtually on my own, and this is not to discredit the personnel, the personnel that are involved here are just overly taxed. They direct us as much as they can under their circumstances, but my best source of information were books that were written by Jimmy Carter's wife, who experienced and has accomplished a lot of philanthropical work and continues to do so, and is a woman of considerable scholastic ability. There were three other books that I acquired, and I got them in Calgary, through our travels, not locally. The Schizophrenia Society has a handbook that was very helpful, and they did provide us with that, but that was a basis to first of all, recognize what the disease really is, and then what sources of help I could turn to outside of any governmental structure within the locality here.
I also feel very strongly that social welfare really falls under a federal plan, because we are all, by virtue of our mobility in this day and age, we have to work somehow in a federal method. I have a sister who could have taken this load off my shoulders, but she is in a worse state than we are. Really it is a federal problem. Questions afterwards, if you wish.
MS. ELLEN POLICHA: I haven't much to add on that, except as a sister-in-law, I find it very trying. We have gone through three different departments, and now the fourth individual is trying to see if he can possibly place him in a YACRA home but so far we hit a dead-end street with always not enough finances. It is very stressful to live with an individual like that, especially in his case, he doesn't have any respect for me, he didn't for his other sister-in-law in Saskatchewan, and as a result, it is very trying. Whatever possible solution there can be, I would certainly want to see it done.
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: I might, if I may, clarify that he has no respect for my wife, I must say in all due honesty that he does not have the capacity to have respect. Nonetheless, it is equally trying when an individual insults you, he has the capacity to be very insulting, but not the capacity to realize that he is doing that.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. Thank you. I am going to open it up now for some questions and discussion. I am going to start with Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: I will go back, Sheila, to you first. You had indicated that this clubhouse program was initially funded by the Western Regional Health Board.
MS. WATSON: Yes.
MR. MUIR: And it was a one-time funding. Is that correct?
MS. WATSON: As far as I know, there is some money there to keep it going, but the program was on the second floor of the hospital. It was just sort of in one room. It is a whole program, they have individuals come in the morning, they have a food service, they get meals, they have clerical, they have maintenance, and their jobs. It is some place for these people to
go and have some respect with a job to do. They have to report in in the morning, there are certain rules. If they don't show up, other members go looking for them, and make sure that they are safe. They are in an environment where they are watched by staff, and if they are not taking medication, it is quite obvious. It is a far better program than sitting around, just with therapy, or if they are around town, they are in the parks, or in the libraries. It is someplace for them to go.
Some of them, as I say, live alone, some with family members. As Matthew has stated, you just can't cope with these people 24 hours a day. These people have to be on their medications in order to take part in this program, but a lot of them didn't want to go back to second floor where they had been treated. We were fortunate enough to have a building on Water Street, but there is no kitchen, it is just sort of in limbo, and have been told that there is no more money to finish it. This is sad.
The staff are terrific, the patience it takes to deal with these people. It gives them a place to go, something to do, and they are very proud of their clubhouse, and very proud of what they are doing. For instance, New Attitudes and our support group meetings, we would like to have our meetings there. There is one big room, but as I understand, it is a matter of fire extinguishers or something, that we can't use the room. Again, people who come to the support group don't want to go back to the hospital. They like this outside the hospital. It is working much better.
The whole program is founded on Fountain House, started in New York. The credentials are very good for the whole thing. It is a shame that the work isn't being finished.
MR. MUIR: Your staff in this, Ms. Watson, are these health care professionals paid for by the Western Regional Health Board, and they come to the clubhouse?
MS. WATSON: Yes. They are there every day. I am just the parent of a person, I have no connection other than the people that I see work there, and I go on a voluntary basis. But, yes, there is a nurse and an occupational therapist, I think it is, that looks after their meals. They make up their meals for a week, they buy groceries. Even if some of them don't come and spend the day, this is a place where they can get a good meal, they have to pay a minimum amount, it is not free, and they have to prepare the meals and do the clean-up. We sort of scratch money together, and they have one little tiny sink, they don't even have an oven.
MR. MUIR: Yes. One more question, and this will be to Mr. and Mrs. Policha. In the chronology which you gave, you came here in 1968, did your brother-in-law and his mother come with you from Saskatchewan?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: My brother. He lived with his mother all that time, since 1961 when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia until last year when we brought them in.
MR. MUIR: Okay. You brought them in last year. I was wondering how it is that you came to accept this responsibility, but it is a straight family matter.
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: Yes. There was no other family member to do so, and there were no facilities better . . .
MR. MUIR: No facilities, that is what I was . . .
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: . . . in the other province. So that is why I stress, it is a problem right across Canada.
MR. MUIR: Did they come in from out of province, or were they Nova Scotians?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: No. They were out of province.
MR. MUIR: Thank you. I was just a little unclear about that.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Ms. Watson, you said that the staff was told that they cannot raise money in order to complete the club, is that the hospital staff?
MS. WATSON: The staff at the clubhouse.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: And that direction would come from the administration at the hospital?
MS. WATSON: I believe so, as far as I know. I am not sure on that. I know we thought, well we will go and ask somebody for a stove or something, and we were told no, we can't. I don't know whether that has something to do with the construction of the hospital, and they feel the town is taxed enough, or just what the reason was.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I guess another question, are there any respite centres, respite beds in the community, where your son can go?
MS. WATSON: No. No, there is nothing. You either have to be admitted to the psychiatric unit or perhaps Community Services would find you, as we ran into one problem, they found the person a bed for one night, but that was all. They didn't feel it was right for him to come home, but that was only for one night and he was told he had to find . . .
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Okay, thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: Thank you, Madam Chair. I guess this question is to all three of you. Are there any homes for special care or small options homes in Yarmouth?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: Yes, there's YACRA, but the problem is to get access. There is no money to get them placed. We have gone and filled out all the forms, have gone through the entire process, and looked at every avenue, but the bottom line still is there is no money.
MR. PYE: The next question is to Ellen Policha. Ellen, you mentioned that you have tried different departments. Can I ask you what departments you have tried?
MS. ELLEN POLICHA: Well, they were dealing with this arrangement for such mentally ill. We had seen one young lady, then another lady talked to us, and each time we gave them the résumé of what all the circumstances were, and then we had gone through a third lady. Now, the fourth one is a gentleman who is endeavouring to do something further, but so far we haven't been able to get any satisfactory answer as to any possibility of funding.
MR. PYE: I know there's a Schizophrenia Society in Yarmouth and I guess I can take for granted, Mr. Matthew Policha, that you are the president of the Schizophrenia Society in Yarmouth?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: No. I am a very new comer.
MR PYE: Then you are a member?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: Yes, but a very new one.
MR. PYE: I am wondering, have you touched base with the Mental Health Society of Nova Scotia?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: No, I haven't.
MR. PYE: Okay, my last question, Madam Chair, is to Sheila. Sheila, you said that the Western Regional Health Board had provided the funding up until this year when, in fact, they found that there was no more money left in the budget to improve upon the clubhouse. Have you made contacts with the Department of Community Services?
MS. WATSON: No, not personally, I haven't.
MR. PYE: Thank you, with respect to a grant, I meant.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. YVONNE ATWELL: Ms. Watson, how many people use the clubhouse would you say, about how many?
MS. WATSON: There were 30-some people when it was on the second floor of the hospital but, because things are sort of in disarray and the staff is uncertain as to what's going to happen and these people are very sensitive to pick up on any uncertainty - they know when the staff is upset, or not exactly upset, but they pick up very quickly when things aren't going smoothly and there's a lot of uncertainty right now - the numbers are probably a dozen or so each day, but there's potential for many more.
MS. ATWELL: I see. Do people come and go in the homes? They maybe use the service for awhile and then don't come back, or how does that . . .
MS. WATSON: Yes, sometimes. Due to the nature of the illness, sometimes they feel they just want to stay home for a few days, but if they don't show up, another member will call. They are very good about checking up on each other or, even when they are there, somebody will say that I don't think Mary's taking her medicine, and the staff, in an unobtrusive way, can keep an eye on these people and in contact with the families. It works very well.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you. One last question - this is for all three of you - do you have any suggestions or ideas that you would like to bring forward in terms of how government or other agencies could help with this situation? Who should be responsible? Where should the responsibility lie? Should it be with the health boards? Should it be Community Services? Do you have any ideas around that?
MS. WATSON: It is mostly this uncertainty about funding. Even with our New Attitudes, which is a program where we go into the community - and I go as a parent - we have four clients, these are people with schizophrenia on their medication and a health professional and we talk to different groups. We have done 30-some presentations. We have spoken to over 500 school children, but each year we wonder if we can continue. It is not knowing where the money is going to come from. It is an excellent program.
When the clients were asked what would be the most help, they all said it is the stigma that the public have toward the mentally ill. So this is what we're trying, with our New Attitudes Program, to do something about, to talk to people and let them know that schizophrenia is not a split personality. They aren't all violent and all this, but it is the uncertainty of the funding that holds everything up. You can't make any long-term plans. We have had two grants for New Attitudes, but it is always up in the air.
MS. ATWELL: Did you have any ideas around other kinds of supports?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: Well, we had no caseworker, no one came to our home for a year and one-half. We have had real difficulties, and all we needed was emotional support and some professional direction or intervention and we get none of that, and not because the local personnel aren't competent or good, there just is not enough to go around. So it is, again, a question of financing and a desperate need for the well-being of those family members who are victims of this horrible disease.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: I have a few things, a couple of questions but, first of all, I want to thank you for your presentation. I think it is particularly timely. This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week. This morning, Mr. Muir and I participated in a press conference in Halifax with the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Halifax branch, talking about some of these very things, the lack of funding that community based agencies have to work with to provide programs or support to people living in the community, which increasingly has occurred because of the institutionalization and the loss of beds in mental health facilities and no alternatives quite often in the community except for families, and the pressure that that is putting on people is horrendous.
Six per cent of the health budget in this province is allocated for mental health. That is all, and the vast majority of that is in institutional health care, so we certainly understand that this is a problem in the public policy and in the way our health dollars are currently allocated, and it has terrible implications for families and people like yourselves. So that's the first thing I would say.
The second thing is that your coming forward and telling us your story and your situation is something that we've heard in other locations. We have had other families who have family members with schizophrenia come and talk to us about their fears and their frustrations in the system. So it is clear that this is happening throughout the province and it is something that I think we, as elected representatives, have an obligation to hear and then act on.
I want to say that the role of the committee is to try to make some public policy recommendations to effect changes quite broadly, so that families will be in better situations when they are dealing with these issues but with respect to your individual situations - and this is just sort of a fluky thing - I am going to be meeting with the person responsible for the Mental Health Services in the western region early next week and I would like to raise these situations with that person and see if we can be of some assistance. I think the committee would really probably like to try to act now and not wait for a final report or more study, or something like that, and I would be happy to do that. If you're going to be around a little bit later this evening, and you would like to talk further, we can do that. I would be happy to do that as well.
I have a specific question with respect to the fact that there is no money, or you haven't been able to find any financial support for this person to access a small options home. I find that hard to understand; I don't disbelieve you, but I can't understand it. So if you could help me understand. This person, I take it, has no independent means or income of their own? Do they have an income?
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: They have an income and I mentioned in the beginning it is not a question of finances individually.
MADAM CHAIR: It is not finances.
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: He is not competent to live on his own. I have his bank account arranged so that I co-sign for a withdrawal. He just does not have the competency to carry on a conversation, to be logical, reasonable, so . . .
MADAM CHAIR: So he has been assessed as not being appropriate for a small options home, or there are spaces in the homes but they won't take him for financial reasons? Help me understand because I can't quite understand what . . .
MR. MATTHEW POLICHA: He has a whole file of medical history and the local psychiatrist has signed and given his report, which is confidential, so I don't know what has gone in to the highest authority locally as far as placing him in one of the YACRA homes. Why it hasn't happened is - again, I get this from the personnel in a sort of discreet way - that we just haven't got the funds to accommodate him and also it is a priority thing. He is not self-destructive. He is not a danger, but he is just very difficult to live with and also, unfortunately, living in that environment, if there was a caseworker, a professional, came and assessed the situation of a 90 year old mother who has cared for this individual and continues to live in the same house, it is neither emotionally or mentally healthy for either one of them and a very complex situation for us to deal with and to endeavour to intervene.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay, maybe we can talk a little further. Is there anybody else who has any other comments? Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: I just have one more. Last Sunday was Walk the World for Schizophrenia and I participated in that. Does any of the money that went into the Schizophrenia Society, is that money all for research or does any of it go back into making resources available for the types of things that you have suggested? I don't know the answer.
MS. WATSON: No. I think province-wide we raised $1,800, but most of it goes to the provincial office to run the provincial office. I think maybe a little of it goes to research, but none of it comes back here locally as far as any of our programs go.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. I would like to welcome Mr. Balser. We introduced you in your absence.
MR. GORDON BALSER: I apologize for being late.
MADAM CHAIR: Not at all, not a problem. I am just going to caution you not to bump the tables together because the microphones will pick it up and hurt the ears of our recorders.
Our next person who will be presenting is Lisa Herbert, a private citizen. Is Lisa Herbert here? Okay, perhaps she will arrive a bit later.
The Southwest Early Childhood Intervention Program, Teresa Godsoe, Janet Sollows and Joan Brewer. Good evening.
MS. TERESA GODSOE: Good evening. I am Teresa Godsoe. On behalf of the families and board members of Southwest Early Childhood Intervention, I would like to present to you the following background information on our organization and recommendations for future involvement and support from the Department of Community Services. We thank you for the opportunity to be heard and we hope that you will truly hear and give due consideration to our concerns.
Like all other early intervention programs in the Province of Nova Scotia, Southwest Early Childhood Intervention provides specialized early intervention services to families who have children with special needs from birth to age five. The program offers regular home visits which revolve around play sessions, providing support information and suggestions for parents on activities and approaches in working with their children, pre-school visits and consultations, participation in trans-disciplinary therapy sessions, and collaboration with other professionals as well as participation in the school transition process and advocacy.
Each family has an individualized family service plan following an assessment which is based upon the emerging skills and needs of the child, the goals and needs of the parents and family, and the recommendations of the early interventionist and other professionals. Suggestions for the use of toys and materials are presented and revised to maximize each child's potential and to ensure appropriate stimulation in all areas of development.
The pre-school years are critical ones in terms of the development of the whole child. The long-term benefits of working with children who have special needs to reach their potential during these years are well known among professionals, families who have received service, and a growing number of the general public. Those benefits are felt not only by the child but also parents, siblings, other family members, schools and the community as a whole.
As part of our presentation you will hear from one of the parents in our program. She speaks for herself and for many other families in our region. At this time I would like to introduce the chairperson of our board, Joan Brewer, who will present her recent letter to Francene Cosman, Minister of Community Services.
MS. JOAN BREWER: We have given you copies of our letter and just to minimize the confusion, we recently went through a name change. We used to be called the Yarmouth County Early Intervention Program and that's what we were at the time of letter writing. We are now the Southwest Early Childhood Intervention. Copies of this letter were sent to the Honourable Francene Cosman, copies also sent to the local MLAs for Clare, Yarmouth and Argyle, and copies to Early Intervention Nova Scotia and to the early intervention programs throughout the province. The letter reads:
Dear honourable Minister Cosman: As chairperson of the board for the Yarmouth County Early Intervention Program, I am writing to state that we were pleased to learn the latest budget has set aside increased funds for existing programs and children's services. We understand that a portion of these funds will be allotted to the early intervention budgets for the upcoming year. We are encouraged to see our government's continued commitment to children with special needs. As you are probably aware, our program provides home visits giving support and direction for parents and caregivers of children with special needs. In the first few years of our children's lives the emphasis is placed on assisting the caregivers to adapt to the challenges of raising a child with special needs. As the child develops and their environment expands to include the world outside their home, we are deeply involved in helping the community learn to accept and meet these challenges as well. We firmly believe that it takes a village to raise a child, or it takes a whole community to raise a child.
Our program coordinator is busy building partnerships with service and program providers, professionals and with the community as a whole. We are committed to helping reduce the issues of isolation and societal marginalization that our program's children and their families experience. We believe that assisting these families in the early years will potentially lead to decreased demands on the health, community services and education systems in the future.
In Yarmouth County, our program has been offering its services to special needs children and their families for three years. At the present time, our coordinator has a caseload which exceeds the provincial standard, and we have five families on our waiting list. Presently, we receive funding from the Department of Community Services to cover the salary and basic benefits of our coordinator. All other expenses, including the operational costs, such as telephone, office space, office equipment, insurances, et cetera, have to be covered through the fund-raising efforts of our local board, a volunteer board.
We are under the impression that the early intervention program is the only one that must publicly raise the funds to cover the operational expenses of the services they offer. Other caregivers, such as public health nurses, in-home support workers, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, et cetera, need only to worry about the delivery of their services, and not the funding for them. Why is early intervention a lower priority with regards to its funding formula? Is this perhaps an unconscious attempt of the government, like the rest of society, to sweep these children's problems under the rug?
With fund-raising needs estimated to be in the range of $17,000 per year, this task is ominous. Yarmouth County has a very limited industrial base since the closure of our cotton mill and tin mine. The fishing industry remains the most important industry to our residents, and it too is facing continued stresses. It is exceptionally difficult to raise the amount of money required for our program to continue to offer these special services our children need and deserve.
Also, with our program fairly well established now, and our board functioning in a solid coordinated fashion, we would so love to expand the services of our program to the Clare region, and I might add that is the main reason why we did go through the name change. However, we cannot realistically do so, due to the lack of a secure fund-raising base. We would give consideration to providing the service to the Clare residents, but only if we could receive 100 per cent of the funding for both the human resources and the operational expenses.
We are totally committed to the preventive philosophy of our early intervention programs in Nova Scotia. If children and families are provided with the support they need early in their child's development, the long-term benefits, both financially and in terms of reduced human suffering will be very worthwhile. However, with our present funding formula, our coordinator and volunteer board members expend too much time annually on fund-raising efforts to ensure that our program continues to operate. This subtracts time and energy from the board members, leaving little human resources to address other important issues, like program development and helping to build to our communities' capacity to serve our children.
Therefore, we would respectfully request that you review the present funding formula for early intervention programs in Nova Scotia. It is our request that 100 per cent funding would more adequately provide for the special children throughout Nova Scotia who are dependent on a supportive program to give them a better hope for a brighter future. We fear that without increased funding to cover the operational expenses of our program, that the future of this important service is in serious jeopardy.
Thank you for your consideration of our situation. We look forward to your earliest reply to our concerns. Respectfully, Joan Brewer, Chairperson of the Intervention Program.
MS. GODSOE: There will be a little bit of repetition here, and there will be a few changes. Since the letter, the waiting list is up to six. Southwest Early Childhood Intervention has one paid staff person, who serves as early interventionist and program coordinator. As mentioned by Joan, the program is run by a volunteer board of directors whose job is to guide the development of the program and oversee the activities of the staff person, that is me.
Unfortunately, members of our board spend far too much valuable time on fund-raising issues instead of focusing on programming excellence. I can't stress that enough. Our board are all busy people from a small community, probably involved in lots of other things too, trying to keep our communities going and healthy, and doing everything they can.
The guideline for the maximum caseload for an early interventionist, who also serves as program coordinator is 12 families. At this time, we are 17 families receiving service, with six families on the waiting list. As our relatively new program develops a stronger profile, we expect more referrals and are deeply concerned about our ability to respond. Currently, our program serves families in Yarmouth County only. We have had several referrals from Digby County, often for families living just beyond the county line. That is really heartbreaking.
However, with only one early interventionist, we cannot expand to include those families, especially since funding for the current work being done is not sufficient. We know that there are other areas in the province which are either under served or receiving no early intervention services at all. So we make the following request with the hope that the Department of Community Services is already considering how to meet the needs of those communities.
The following are six recommendations that we would like to make. That we receive 100 per cent funding for Southwest Early Childhood Intervention, and all early intervention programs throughout Nova Scotia, both established and future. Digby, Annapolis, Richmond, Inverness and Guysborough Counties currently lack programs.
Continued funding for family resource centres. In Yarmouth, we have the Parents' Place. The service these organizations provide are critical to our families, and they are partners with us in working with those families who have children with special needs.
More staff for the in-home support program at Community Services. Our current in-home support worker serves 170 families in four counties. She has been a very valuable partner with Southwest Early Intervention, yet we do not have sufficient access to her expertise. Her social work skills are needed here in order to help families to access resources, build strength and advocate for their children. More in-home support funding for families. For example, for respite care, with a broadening of the guidelines for eligibility.
Allowing single parents on social assistance to keep their Child Tax Benefit, instead of having it considered income and deducted from their cheque. Some of the families in our program are living well below the poverty level, and this new policy has increased their financial burden. Raising a child who has special needs is challenging enough without the added stress of not having basic needs met. There are often extra costs associated with the care of a child with special needs, such as diapers and travel to medical appointments in Halifax. Those are only a few.
Not all families are eligible for the in-home support program. As an early interventionist, it is very difficult to keep the focus on the developmental issues and needs of the children, when the families are in constant financial crisis. It is also very difficult for parents in poverty to do the necessary work with their children under these circumstances.
Finally, more room for input from early intervention programs in the school transition process, specifically in regard to policy, procedure and in getting program support assistance for children who need them.
At this time, I would like to hand things over to Janet.
MS. JANET SOLLOWS: I would like to present my views about the early intervention program from three perspectives. I am the parent of a child in the program, I am also a board member, and I am a school administrator.
As the parent of a special needs child, I have had the opportunity to see first-hand the benefit that this program has been to my son and his development. The early interventionist has been instrumental in making my husband and I aware of the resources in the community which could best assist our son. She has also organized an inter-disciplinary team to coordinate services our son has been receiving. I feel this program has been a very important factor in my son's developmental progress to date.
As a person who firmly believes in the importance of this program, and someone who has seen first-hand the positive effects of this program, I accepted a position as a board member. It has been in this capacity that I have learned of the gross underfunding of the program. It is my understanding that the salary and benefits of the interventionist are the only items funded by the government. As a board member and a parent, I am expected to and feel obligated to raise funds to buy office supplies, materials for the children in the program to use, and a multitude of other expenses.
I also see the unreasonable workload assumed by the early interventionist, as she not only does that for which she is trained, but also duties which could be done by an administrative assistant. All the extra activities detract from her work with the children. As a parent, I am taking time to advocate the program and fund-raise for the program. This time is taken away from working with my child.
Finally, as a school principal and an educator, I see a number of children requiring extra assistance with their school program. The school boards have increasing demands for program support assistance, as well as heavy workloads for specialists such as speech and language pathologists and school psychologists. The early intervention program, if expanded, would enable many students to receive services before they reach the school system.
The early intervention program needs to be instrumental in school transition programs for special needs students. Time after time, I hear teachers say the loss of the three and a half year assessment by the Public Health Department has contributed to children not being diagnosed or problems not being detected, and therefore they are showing up in the school system.
I look at my son starting school next September, and feel very thankful that the early intervention program has been there to help him. It would be my wish that every special needs child would be as fortunate as him to receive early intervention. In order for this to happen, more support for the program needs to be forthcoming.
MADAM CHAIR: I think I am going to start with Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: You spoke of the need in Clare. If the program was to be expanded to include the Clare area, how many youngsters would be wanting or needing that service? Do you have any idea how many?
MS. GODSOE: It is unfortunate, we don't have exact figures, although the occupational therapist in our region serves families in Clare. We are just going on general talk among the professionals, we know we would get the referrals. Since I have been on, we have had one referral, but there were three previous to that, and then I have one call waiting. I know they live in Clare, and I am going to have to tell them. So that is five. That is without ever letting people know that there is a service. The professionals have not been referring because they know where our boundaries end.
We do know, from the few people that we have had access to, because people come to the Yarmouth Hospital for other services, the few people that we have learned about who need the program, and we know that there are more out there. Clare and Digby, Digby County itself would need the program. We wanted to take it in small chunks, we kind of wanted to move into Clare and see if there was strength and will there to maybe form a bit of a board, but we just can't do that now, at this time.
MR. BALSER: I guess coming out of that, in a perfect world, if this was to come to pass, what would be needed to expand? Would you need an additional person, like yourself?
MS. GODSOE: We would need an additional person, and we would need 100 per cent funding for the program that we currently have.
MR. BALSER: And what dollar value would be 100 per cent funding, excluding Clare? Let's talk specifically about Yarmouth at this point.
MS. GODSOE: $53,000, and we have looked at that fairly carefully. Those are fairly accurate figures for one person to do Yarmouth. So, for Clare, I am expecting it wouldn't be quite as much for extra costs for paper and things, but the salary would be the same. We didn't go as far as we expected to go in breaking down the budget, because once we realized it wasn't going to work, we kind of shelved it. It is an issue. We want to do it. We want to be able to do it.
MR. BALSER: We have heard a number of presentations in the last little while, specifically regarding this early intervention program. Is there a fairly close network, in terms of the group in Yarmouth talking to the group in Halifax, or in . . .
MS. GODSOE: Yes. I would be closer with the group in Shelburne, just because of geographics. We do share more discussions, we do get together and we had a regional meeting recently. We get together once a year. And there is the Early Intervention Nova Scotia Board, which I will be joining soon. That is the network, Early Intervention Nova Scotia.
MR. BALSER: So there is a fair networking.
MS. GODSOE: Yes.
MR. BALSER: One of the comments was with regard to the three and a half year assessment. If you were to make a recommendation to this committee, would it be that the three and a half year assessment be reinstated provincially?
MS. SOLLOWS: Yes.
MR. BALSER: You mentioned that your son is going to be entering school down the road. In terms of transitional planning, that is moving from pre-school to the school setting. Has there been a fair amount, or is the structure in place to sort of anticipate the arrival of a child with exceptionalities so that the school is prepared, and so that the documentation is carried forward, transitional planning?
MS. SOLLOWS: Right now we have an interdisciplinary team set-up which involves Teresa as the early interventionist, the pre-school teacher - he has an aide working with him in pre-school this year so she would be part of that - a speech therapist, and an occupational therapist. The school board has their set-up with the student services branch. Maybe Teresa
could better address this. There has not been any school transition, or there has been, it is something that is kind of iffy. As a parent involved in the school system and knowing the school system, I would push for it. That may not always happen and that is where I see Teresa's role in helping to make parents aware that the school system can be, and I think a transition plan is very important.
MR. BALSER: The point of the question was that if we put in place a mechanism before they enter school and we abandon them at the schoolhouse door, so to speak, then that just exacerbates the problem.
MS. SOLLOWS: Well, no they would not be abandoned at the schoolhouse door because the education department would take over at that point.
MR. BALSER: Recognizing that, I think there is a need for the information to be conveyed and the transition plan put in place prior to the entrance to school, this carried forward.
MS. GODSOE: Absolutely, I would support that. Currently that is not happening. I think maybe there is a learning process. I am not on the education side of it, but from what I see we did have our school transition meetings and they were really quite good. Recommendations came forward and everyone sat at the table who knew the particular children, but then it was left in the hands of the school, which had so many children to deal with, and none of the recommendations were dealt with until the child actually set foot through the door and so it was a very rocky start. It really needs to be smoother and that is why we would like to be more involved.
MR. BALSER: Is this a Community Services issue, or is it an Education issue?
MS. GODSOE: It is a Community Services issue in the sense that one early interventionist, who is supposed to be providing a home visit based program, but sees the need for all of these children entering the community and into the schools, cannot do it all. We have a need to have parents advocate for themselves but that is a role, as Janet says, for me to be working with parents so that they can advocate for themselves and be part of that team. You are expecting an early interventionist program coordinator to try to hold the program together in one hand, trying to do the early intervention and then trying to do things out in the community. It is impossible with one person and a volunteer board. It is work that needs to be done.
It is an Education issue, but it is also a Community Services issue in the sense that that is where our funding comes from. We need more people, we need more funding and we need to be able to do more. I do not know if that answers your question.
MR. PYE: I just want to make a couple of comments. MLA Balser is quite correct, we have participated in at least seven public meetings and at all of those public meetings early intervention and childhood programs were brought forward, the establishment of 100 per cent funding to an early childhood intervention program was a priority. I think that we got a very clear message on that.
There is one concern, the early intervention program does allow you to have the opportunity to bring that child up to the school age. Ms. Sollows indicated she was an administrator in the education system. When your child enters school in September 1999, the school is aware that your child is coming before April?
MS. SOLLOWS: Yes.
MR. PYE: And also the school, along with the principal, the vice principal, and all the other people involved in providing an educational training program for children with special needs is there, when you take that opportunity they are already aware that your child is a child with special needs coming through the school system, are they?
MS. SOLLOWS: They should be.
MR. PYE: It was a concern of mine, with respect to the early intervention that MLA Balser was commenting on, and I thought that there was something here that I was missing, that in fact there was not the opportunity, that the teachers and everyone would be unaware that you had a child coming into the system but that will not be the case at all; they will be aware.
MS. SOLLOWS: I will make them aware, yes.
MS. GODSOE: It is up to the parents to call.
MR. PYE: That is right, and the parent calls before the school year has ended, as I understand it. In fact there is a special meeting set up with the parent and the teachers involved for the year coming September, so that everything is in place prior to September.
MS. GODSOE: Yes, there is a school transition process.
MR. PYE: Okay, thank you.
MS. ATWELL: I just have one question. How difficult is it for children who may not have had the early childhood intervention early enough and they are entering school? How difficult is it for that child who may have been through the process of having the interventions a lot earlier and with the parents involved with what is happening, so when they get to the
school they are more prepared? I am sure you said there were many on a waiting list, so what happens to those children? What happens to them when they enter the school system?
MS. GODSOE: If they have had no early intervention?
MS. ATWELL: Yes.
MS. GODSOE: If they have had none, it is very, very hard for the child, the family and the school, depending on the degree of the involvement of the developmental delays. I think when you begin to work with a family when the child is very young, you are taking advantage of all of the opportunities for learning, the language development is happening, the socialization, the child is learning things in their way. You cannot expect to play catch-up when they hit school. I am just remembering my daughter's first day of school and she is not suffering any delays, and that is a tremendous thing that is happening anyway.
Really for a child who is going to have trouble with communication, with socialization, with movement, they really need to have a program and you need to be able to work with the family. That is a very delicate process and I am putting myself in the family's place, to have an early interventionist come into your home in the first place and then to be open to the suggestions of several professionals. Maybe those suggestions are conflicting; maybe you do not have access to the right professionals. Sometimes it is hit or miss, and sometimes the problems that the child has are a mystery to the family, and there is no known diagnosis. That can be very, very painful to the families.
If, all of a sudden, there has been no early intervention, the chances are they may have been picked up by speech and language therapy or something along the way, but if there has been nothing to help the family to really see the whole picture and to feel strong and advocate for themselves and their child and know what they are dealing with, that has to be a horrendous situation. The school though, and those families, can speak better about that than I can.
MS. ATWELL: I was just thinking about the children whose families are on a waiting list, let us say, who are probably pretty anxious to get started, is there any other place for those families to go to or are there any other resources while they may be waiting for this kind of transition?
MS. GODSOE: We have an occupational therapist and we have a speech and language pathologist. There is a six month waiting list right now, but it will be longer for speech and language pathology. Then there is occupational therapy, but that will not address all of the needs of the child and the family necessarily. Now we are trying to work together as a trans-disciplinary team.
There really is not any other place. There is the family resource centre. That is for all families and that would be one place that families could go, but as far as the specialized knowledge of children with special needs - they have quite a bit of resource there, there is no question - as far as what a child with special needs would need, no, there is not.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MR. MUIR: Madam Chair, I have two very quick questions. The three and one-half year old assessment, was this done on every child by the Department of Public Health?
MS. SOLLOWS: Yes.
MR. MUIR: I did not know that, and I tend to think I was not paying much attention, because I have four children and I do not remember them having that.
MS. SOLLOWS: I am not exactly sure when it stopped. I think my oldest received it, but the other two did not.
MR. MUIR: Gordon can tell you, as an elementary school principal he would know that stuff better than me. The other question that I was going to ask, and I guess it goes to Teresa, how do people access the early intervention program?
MS. GODSOE: They are referred by physicians or by pre-school teachers, or they can refer themselves.
MR. MUIR: The other part of it was, what percentage of the population that might need the services or could use the services of early intervention is not trying to access it.
MS. GODSOE: Over to you, Joan. I don't really have the figures.
MS. BREWER: I don't know. That's a good question.
MR. MUIR: It seems some people wouldn't really know or they would not have accessed physicians. Thank you.
MS. GODSOE: But I can say though that we have had more referrals in the last several months as we have been raising our profile. They are coming in more steadily.
MS. BREWER: When the program is only three years old, the awareness with the health professionals is even still increasing.
MS. GODSOE: No one has time to go and do that education so we just do it in bits and pieces.
MADAM CHAIR: I have one or two questions with respect to your recommendations. One question is regarding continued funding for family resource centres. Is the funding for the family resource centre from the Department of Community Services or is this CAPC money?
MS. GODSOE: I am not really sure. I think that it is. I am not really sure to tell you the truth. I do know that there is probably some grant money there. Holly is in the back of the room. She can probably tell us.
MADAM CHAIR: It is the Brighter Futures? It is the CAPC money?
MS. GODSOE: But if there is anything, I just really think it was just really important to say it. These are partners in our community.
MADAM CHAIR: Especially if that is one of the places for families on the waiting list and this is the centre where they can go and get short-term federal money.
I guess another question I have comes out of your fifth recommendation around the Child Tax Benefit and the clawback for people who are on social assistance. The Department of Community Services has indicated that it is their intention to use some of that money that they are clawing back, I guess - there is no other polite way to put it - to actually set up programs for children and families. I know there has been no announcement and we do not know what that looks like, but has there been consultation that you are aware of with groups such as yours about what is required?
MS. GODSOE: Not as far as I know. No.
MADAM CHAIR: Okay. Those are my questions.
MR. PYE: Thank you. I did forget to ask a couple of questions. One is with respect to the child program. I believe that is on hold until 1999, even though they are making the clawback now. I believe that there are programs to be developed and to be defined and they are waiting until 1999 or at least that is what I heard. My question is to Joan Brewer with respect to the letter that you sent to the minister, Francene Cosman. Have you received a response?
MS. BREWER: No. There probably has not been enough of a time-frame yet. It was written on September 9th, but it was not sent out right then.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. This was a very interesting presentation.
Our next presenters are from Women for Community Economic Development in Southwest Nova. Teresa Godsoe and Myra Ritchie.
MS. GODSOE: Myra Ritchie was unable to make it so it will be Diane Crowell. I just noticed she is present.
MS. DIANE CROWELL: I am here to help out. I am the local, the area rep for the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women. We are in great support of this program, this project.
MS. GODSOE: You are going to get tired of hearing my voice.
Women for Community Economic Development in Southwest Nova is a group formed by women from Yarmouth, Shelburne and Digby whose goal it is to empower women in southwestern Nova Scotia to become more recognized for their work and more involved in the local economy. We are in the process of creating a network of workers and leaders in community economic development and have just received federal funding for a participatory research project called Empowering Women in the Economy.
We come from a variety of backgrounds and we are representatives of a variety of cultures and communities, including Black, Native and Acadian communities. We are business owners, educators, artists, counsellors, literacy tutors, volunteers, mothers, grandmothers and community activists.
Our primary goal is to create a women's centre for Southwest Nova. Some of us have either been in receipt of social assistance, are currently on social assistance, have worked for Community Services or have advocated for people living in poverty. The new women's centre will be for all women. Our vision is women helping women to become stronger and more involved, to be supported and to be contributors to one another's growth and to the growth of the community.
The following represents our collective concerns about people living in poverty and what we would like to see changed in the system. Our philosophy is double-edged. We believe that those in receipt of social assistance and those who are involved in Community Services programs need to be given appropriate, timely and sufficient support to live and to grow. We also believe that those same people need to be challenged to grow from the inside and to take increasing and ultimate responsibility for their own growth and well-being. This can only be done in a truly caring community which knows and values its people. This can only be accomplished when we are made aware of the realities of living in poverty and strong enough to take on the task of creating a sustainable community where there is opportunity for increasing independence, real employment, education opportunities and a thriving economy.
Currently we believe that the assistance given to those in need is not sufficient. People are being forced off the system or squeezed out gradually and painfully, without enough real effort being made to encourage the internal growth that taking responsibility for oneself requires. The consequences of collecting social assistance are high, high for the state and very high for the recipient. It should not be a shameful thing to be poor. Loss of confidence, lack of trust, low self-esteem, loss of pride, children dropping out of school and generations on welfare are the costs paid by those families on the system. The loss of a single citizen to the system is a price too high to pay.
People must be made to account for themselves and be challenged. Welfare reform should be ongoing and staffed appropriately. We cannot just throw money at societal ills, it is very hard and sometimes thankless work to save a person from the system. Often the civil servant becomes distrustful, cynical and patronizing, even disrespectful towards the client. Someone wearing shoes that cost more than their client's food budget should be sensitive in discussing a budget with a single mother receiving less than $10,000 per year.
The system and the criteria for receiving social benefits must be open and clear. It appears to many people that the rules are different for different people and the department has a hidden agenda. Decisions should be made by a team, not a single person. The system must be seen to be fair. Family and Child Welfare should work closely with income support groups. Advocates should be encouraged and not resented or considered trouble makers by staff persons. Support groups such as day care, food banks, anti-poverty groups, community kitchens should have better funding. Additional funds should be made available for children with special needs, for example, with school supplies, winter clothes, dental care and not just extraction. Boards should include recipients or former recipients.
Non-custodial parents must be made to support their children. Nova Scotia must aggressively pursue those parents who do not pay support. The National Child Benefit must not be included in other income and hence deducted from social assistance cheques. Workers at social services must be made aware of the different programs available and special assistant workers should be diverse in terms of cultural ethnicity, socio-economic levels and sexual orientation. Department officers do not reflect the communities they serve.
Most people would agree that there are some individuals that society must look after, children, the infirmed, the sick and from time to time the unemployed and working poor. Sometimes a person needs help to get over a bad patch and the system should be flexible. There will also be some who take advantage of or even cheat the system and there is no doubt that there will be some who will fall through the cracks, some will feel unfairly treated and that some workers will suffer burn-out. The price we pay in human financial terms is too high.
Single mothers with small children should be high on the list of eligible recipients but the system should not be a way for young women to avoid planning for their family's future. Teenaged girls who have babies must continue their education, day care must be available.
Emotional and financial support must be given until the girl or woman can support herself and her child, until the child starts school. The system should not be a way of life for families. Medicines should be provided when prescribed by a doctor. Special diets should also be considered. Some people are lactose intolerant or have diabetes.
Single able-bodied males or females should have short-term support, for instance during job training, and must be seen to be helping themselves. A telephone and transportation budget should be available for single recipients who are looking for work and there should be monies available for upgrading and training. It is fairly hard to get a job when you do not have a phone to receive the call from the employer or a way to get to the interview. Two hundred dollars a month for childcare forces the parents to use substandard childcare which could place the children at risk. That is not enough money.
Southwest Nova Scotia has no meeting place for women. A women's centre would provide a place to meet, network and share information. It could also include a family resource centre, sponsor community kitchens, have mini-courses on family budgeting and nutrition. A centre could supply prevention programs for youth. A centre could help women become more self-sufficient, confident and contribute to society. A centre could work closely with Family and Children's Services and maybe deliver some of their programs. A centre could be a way to complement the efforts of the social worker.
We say this knowing we have the family resource centre and obviously we would work together with existing programs so that each program had its own identity but that we all worked together. In saying we could include a family resource centre, we already have a family resource centre, but we could eventually all come under one roof, maybe. (Interruption) We are hoping.
We make our recommendations and state our concerns with the full expectation that we will be welcome at the table when it comes to continuing the welfare reform process. As citizens, we are all responsible for making the positive changes that need to take place. We look forward to working with those who share our philosophy and we thank the committee for this opportunity to be heard.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. I think I will start this time with Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: Are you familiar with the Women's Centre Connect and have you done any work with them in terms of how they set up their women's centres? I think they do, I was just reading through this while you were reading, that they do all of this kind of work and right now their funding is in jeopardy. They may not get funding next year for their centres, so they are working very hard to ensure that that is ongoing.
The question is, would you have any ideas or any suggestions in terms of, and hopefully you will hook up with Women's Centre Connect, to ensure that there is funding for your centre. Do you have any ideas around how the women's centres, even though now they have come together to do some work, what are some other things that they may be able to do to gain support for their centres?
I ask that question because government seems to be at a standstill in terms of looking at women's centres as a viable organization within a community, that does more than just get together on occasion. There are programs that include children and self-sufficiency and deal with abuse and violence and that sort of thing. However, there does not seem to be a great deal of political will to ensure that women's centres are properly funded. I am trying to find out what more women could do themselves to collectively move that forward.
MS. CROWELL: One of my other hats is I am a businesswoman and I have been on a lot of provincial boards that have been connected with the women's centres, particularly the one in Pictou and the one in Bridgewater. The one in Pictou is 23 to 25 years old and the one in Bridgewater is almost 20, long established organizations within their communities. The nearest one to us is Lawrencetown and/or Bridgewater. This area has always been one that, I do not know whether it be, there have been many reasons why, I think, we have not been able to come together and get the groundwork done to have what we need to have on the table to be part of Women's Centre Connect. But being a businesswoman, I have always said to Women's Centre Connect and to my friends who work in women's centres that what would be the best proposal perhaps for government to see, especially the financial aspects of government, is to see the services that women's centres provide within the community and to put a government dollar value on that service.
For instance, when somebody drops into the centre for free counselling or for a referral because they are in an abusive situation, or they are looking for a job, or they want to find out how to get some sort of help with their children, whatever, that service on a dollar value is like $1.00, but if you were to put it on paying for a professional to do it, it could be up to $400. It is like equal service for equal value. I think if the bottom line were drawn there as to the $55,000 that each full-time women's centre gets within this province - which is peanuts - and the service that they provide for that $55,000, as well as running around like crazy getting other grants and so on, it is just astronomical. They are actually saving us, as taxpayers, thousands of dollars.
MS. ATWELL: Absolutely. One other question. Have you received funding for your centre yet, or just for, I think you mentioned, research for a research project, Empowering Women in the Economy? Can you tell me a little bit about that?
MS. GODSOE: Shall I take this one?
MS. CROWELL: Sure, go ahead.
MS. GODSOE: We are in the process of hiring a researcher who is going to look at the needs of women in southwestern Nova Scotia particularly. It kind of follows on the tail of a project called Counting Women Into Community Economic Development, which the Status of Women did, and Diane can speak more about that. We think we know a lot of the barriers for women to become more involved and more powerful here, but we really need to have that documented, specific to the communities in southwestern Nova Scotia, so we want the researcher to get out there and do really good kitchen table talks, focus groups, and we want to find out what women need in order to move forward.
We also want a women's centre, and we know that whatever they come up with is probably going to fit within something a women's centre can do. So we are hoping that phase two of this project, we are hoping that the research worker, part of her job will be then to move into phase two of this. That is our plan.
MS. ATWELL: Thank you.
MR. PYE: Teresa, Page 3, your third recommendation, with respect to advocates. I do acknowledge that there should be better funding. There is only one concern I have, I hope that you are recommending funding that is short-term for food banks, is that true?
MS. GODSOE: Well, . . .
MR. PYE: The reason why I say that, if you don't mind my saying, is because I find it insulting and dehumanizing that individuals on social assistance then must have to go to a food bank in order to receive food to supplement their nutrition . . .
MS. GODSOE: I agree.
MR. PYE: . . . and hopefully, if in fact we request more funding for the food allotment within the budget, that that would address and get rid of this 15 year need for food banks in a country such as Canada and in Nova Scotia.
MS. GODSOE: That is a very good point. Thank you. I personally would agree with you on that.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: The people being forced off the system are squeezed out. How is that, could you explain that?
MS. GODSOE: I will try to give you some individual instances. It is harder and harder to get assistance. It used to be that, let's just say a single mother who has a child used to wait a short amount of time before receiving family benefits. It can take up to eight months to receive sufficient help. When I was once working at a Community Services agency, there was only $450 a month, maximum, allowed on municipal assistance.
To me, that is forcing people to find other ways to subsist, and it is not providing even for the very basic needs, and when you take the Child Tax Benefit - I forget the actual terms for it - and you take that away from mothers who are on social assistance, you are saying a couple of things. It is not for them, and really they have to live, and $670 a month when you have a child is not enough to live on. That is one figure. It is harder and harder to get assistance, and to get assistance for special needs. It used to be that you could get a pair of glasses or dental care without question, and my understanding is that is no longer true.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: In accessing the system, I have always felt that it wasn't that hard to access the system because I haven't run into it. I have dealt with a large number of people in the area, but I haven't run into that problem.
MS. GODSOE: It is discretionary, and sometimes it depends on who you are maybe. You will hear different things from different people, and I have heard enough stories to know that it is discretionary, especially in a smaller town.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: That was part of my second question. You said that the rules are different for different people. I am wondering, maybe it is something that is inherent in your system here in the area?
MS. CROWELL: I would absolutely say no. With the Nova Scotia Advisory Council, we did what we called a travelling road show. We went around and talked to many groups throughout Nova Scotia. I, of course, attended the one in this area, but coming back together at our council meetings, the stories were absolutely 100 per cent redundant; they were the same everywhere. It was a very emotional and trying time for me personally to hear such inhumane stories coming from so many different areas of the province, whether there would be adequate funding to live on or having to prove themselves to get glasses or to have health care. It was just appalling. So it is not just this area, it is all the way throughout the system.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Okay. I will leave that there. In working with the area for the last 20 to 25 years, I know the dollars are not great in the system, but in accessing the dollars that are there, or the programs that are available, I haven't seen that great a problem; anyway, I will leave it there.
MS. GODSOE: It is kind of an invisible problem, because those people who suffer in the system don't tend to speak about it. They don't tend to speak about it unless there is a forum or a safe place to speak about it, so you might not necessarily know.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: The last question I am going to ask. The workers at social services must be aware of the different programs available?
MS. GODSOE: Yes. Things like employment support or a kind of a support group, or the anti-poverty group, people need to be aware of those.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Aware of the other groups that are in the community that might be able to help.
MS. GODSOE: Yes, that might help them.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Okay. Thank you.
MS. GODSOE: Access to information, yes.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: This is the second time that we have seen the need for economic development to be tied to issues related to social services. I guess my concern or my question would be what are the difficulties faced by women - since this is specific to women and community economic development - what are some of the issues related to women living in poverty, or accessing community services, who are attempting to break the cycle through entrepreneurial endeavours or looking to provide for their own income, so to speak?
MS. GODSOE: Not having connections; not knowing who; to go to not knowing how to work in the system with banks - that is only one example - but not having any money to start; not having self-esteem. There are lots of creative people out there who would like to do something, but . . .
MS. CROWELL: One of the projects that we did in this area that was a prelude to this was run by a group called Women for Economic Equality, and it was called Counting Women Into Community Economic Development, Teresa mentioned it. One of the things that was prevalent in this area, and throughout the province, was access to information. It wasn't just that the government agencies or the private agencies or so on were there, it was these women in particular didn't know how to access that information. They didn't know that behind that door that read - down here RDA - the Southwest Shore Nova Regional Development Authority, that they could go there and perhaps get a referral to an appropriate place for them to start a new business or whatever.
It was the access to information. Their biggest suggestion at that time was that these agencies and so on go into the rural communities, in this area anyway, and have town hall meetings or something like that and explain to them what their agency could provide, what the services were and what they were there for. That would kind of break the barrier and give
the women perhaps a bit more self-confidence to venture out again on their own. It was like the first step, that was a huge thing for us down here, access to information.
MR. BALSER: This is an obvious question, I guess, but is there a need for the Department of Economic Development to put in place programs geared specifically for women entrepreneurs or women businesspeople? Is that missing in the system?
MS. CROWELL: Well, it was in the system for a while, what we now call HRDC did have training programs which were specifically designed for women. With the cutbacks, they are no longer specifically offered just for women. I personally, being a businesswoman myself, I know the barriers I faced through the number of years I have been in business, and I certainly think it would be a tremendous asset to have that in addition to what Economic Development now offers, certainly.
MR. BALSER: One last question if I may. If we were to look at one thing that would create the most benefit, and I will give the answer we have heard before and see where you go with that, and that is that many people have spoken of the need for subsidized flexible day care for people who are working, the working poor or people who are trying to break the cycle, so to speak. Could you comment on that?
MS. GODSOE: Oh, absolutely. Childcare is a major issue when you talk about the barriers. Childcare and living in an isolated area are two key issues, and transportation. If you don't have the gas money to get in and talk to somebody at Access Nova, you are not going to get there, and somebody to look after your kids. Not only the day care but I guess, when we are talking about building communities, we are talking about not just having the day care space available, but educating our own community as to the needs. If a person is looking for work or building themselves their own business or trying to better themselves in some way, they should be able to have access to a day care space, not just if they are in school or working. There shouldn't be such strict guidelines on who gets the day care.
We need to get rid of this attitude of who deserves the help and who doesn't. We need to begin to look at one another and see one another as human beings and both challenge and support at the same time, and see the value. I know I am grandstanding here a little bit, but I think I am speaking to our community too, here at these public hearings, and say that we need to be a lot more forgiving and a lot more creative with one another. So, day care space absolutely, childcare, and it needs to be flexible. Sorry.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: Looking at your recommendations there on Page 3, Mr. Pye referred to one earlier. First paragraph up there, and it is the first word in the first paragraph. I wonder if that is a statement of fact or . . .
MS. GODSOE: We have a double-spaced one.
MR. MUIR: Okay, it is this one, "Often the civil servant becomes distrustful, cynical and patronizing and even disrespectful towards the client.".
MS. GODSOE: I think that is what recipients have experienced, and that is what we have heard.
MR. MUIR: So the word, often, as an adverb is intentional.
MS. GODSOE: Yes.
MR. MUIR: Secondly, the boards you refer to, "Boards should include recipients or former recipients.". What boards are they?
MS. GODSOE: I guess advisory boards, perhaps appeal boards. I guess that is a fairly general statement.
MR. MUIR: Appeal boards. Okay. Thank you. Appeal boards as currently constituted, is there a group of people that sit to hear, or is there one person that initially hears?
MS. GODSOE: There are three people usually.
MR. MUIR: Three.
MS. CROWELL: It is usually a number of people within the community that are appointed to the appeal board, usually, there might be five, but three would sit and listen to the appeal.
MR. MUIR: What I am going to say now, a person came up to me the other night, it is known around that I am on this committee, and a person came up to me on the street the other day and said, one of the things that I have difficulty with in the social service system is the very young women who are having babies. You did make mention of that in your presentation.
What this person said to me was effectively, a person should sort of be entitled - whatever word they used - to one child, as a teenager, and I am talking about a young person. They had a lot of difficulty coping with the fact that there are cases of young women who will then have two, three or four children and they all stay in the social service system at that point. Do you have any suggestion as to how we might deal with that? What they were suggesting was, and it was quite frank, that past child number one, all others go for adoption.
MS. GODSOE: Wow. I will not even honour that with a response, and I know that you are having trouble with that too, I can just tell. But I will say that there are members of our group, Women for Community Economic Development, who struggled with this presentation because that concern is shared. So it comes down to that the system must be seen to be fair by everyone.
If a young woman has children, what we would want for that woman is that she experience her whole self and grow and be supported and contribute in the community. If there was a person who greeted a person coming in on the system right at the door and that person was not distrustful or cynical, or whatever, and that person was going to help that young woman navigate her way through a plan of some kind and the rest of the community knew that, I do not think it is up to any one of us to decide how many children a person has; that is none of our business. The community does need to see that Community Services is dealing with that in some way, is working with that woman so that it is not simply seen as a plan for life. I think there is a balance and I think that needs to be talked about.
The answer that the person you spoke with had, that is not the answer. The answer is to bring people together and to see that young person for the human being that she is and find out, what is going on here? Is there something else? Who knows the reason for the high teen pregnancy rate in Yarmouth.
MS. CROWELL: There are many socio-economic reasons too why these things happen. I do not think that we can go around blaming young women, teenagers or whatever, because our system says we will pat you on the back if you have three kids and then you can stay on social assistance and get yourself a cute little apartment. I do not know any teenager that would want to stay home and raise three children just because they were going to get $600 to $1,000 a month. It is kind of the socio-economic background or backbone of the situation that we have to look at and why is our system perpetuating this in any way.
MR. MUIR: I just raise that because it was a comment passed on and the person was serious.
MS. GODSOE: Yes, I am sure you are absolutely right that the person was serious.
MR. MUIR: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Maybe at this point the question around teenaged girls in your brief was also something that caught my eye. In your discussion with Mr. Muir you indicated that there is a high rate of teenage pregnancy. What precisely is that, do you know what the rate is?
MS. CROWELL: Well, I taught school here about 20 years ago and at that time we had the highest teenage pregnancy rate of anywhere in Canada, per capita.
MR. MUIR: Is that Yarmouth or Digby? I thought Digby was . . .
MS. CROWELL: Well, southwestern Nova Scotia. The current figure is high but I do not know if it is the highest in the province or . . .
MADAM CHAIR: It isn't, Amherst is the highest in the province. I think just to comment more than anything, it is really important to have these discussions and debates, especially in public forums, because you have an opportunity to get the information out and to challenge perceptions that are based on either no information or poor information.
We have had the opportunity to have presentations to this committee by the Deputy Minister of Community Services which included a fairly detailed account of who it is that receives social assistance in the Province of Nova Scotia. The vast majority of single parents who are on social assistance in this province have one child. I think people really need to go and look at those statistics and try to understand what the reality is in terms of what the department is dealing with.
The other thing I think that is really important too, to always keep in mind, is that the majority of people who receive social assistance in this province, as well as in every other province, are persons with disabilities and, in fact, it is not single-parent women. Then when you start to look at the breakdown of it, if you look specifically at single parents, of the single parents who receive assistance, very few of them are actually teenaged mothers. They tend to be women who are clustered anywhere between the 24 and probably 32 to 35 year group, and many of them have been divorced and separated. So that kind of stuff is important to know and to talk about in these debates.
I think it is an historical problem when teenaged mothers were shamed and a lot of moral judgements were made with respect to teenaged mothers before there was a welfare system and before they received welfare. The fact that now they get welfare and it is public dollars has just exacerbated a societal judgement or a lack of wanting to encourage women to be in that situation or, you know, just a moral judgement about how they get in those circumstances. So I always like to have these issues come up so we get a chance to challenge them, I guess, in some way.
MR. MUIR: I would just make one other comment on this thing. Like some others here, I have got a bit of a background in education. We have been trying to address these problems for some time and we haven't, obviously, been particularly successful because of the number of people who, for one reason or another, are forced to access a social benefits system. If you have any thoughts - and I am not looking for them tonight - but one of the things that I hope can come from this group is some preventive programs; extra money or additional services is great but somewhere we've got to get into the prevention mode as opposed to the remedy. I have said enough. Thank you.
MS. GODSOE: The women's centre can . . .
MR. MUIR: But that, quite often, deals with people who are in the situation.
MS. GODSOE: Not necessarily.
MS. CROWELL: Bridgewater has been very successful in running - actually, it was studied right across Canada - a course, and theirs particularly was about date rape but it was very preventive. It was in the schools. The kids developed it themselves. They made a film out of it with NFB.
MR. MUIR: So the women's centre actually was getting down into the . . .
MS. CROWELL: Yes.
MR. MUIR: I haven't heard of them doing that before.
MS. CROWELL: It is not just crisis intervention and counselling, there is a lot of getting into the community and building.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. The next presenter is from the TriCounty Anti-Poverty Group, Lois LeBlanc.
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Thank you. This is my first time doing this presentation so forgive me if I am a little bit nervous. My name is Lois LeBlanc. I am spokesperson for the TriCounty Anti-Poverty Group for Yarmouth and the county, which was formed about a year ago. Our purpose is to support and pass on information of the government changes and distribute information and materials as they become readily available.
We hope to bring people on fixed incomes together so they can build a network of people to count on and trust for things like how to fill out forms and where to go for tutoring or information on courses, access to childcare assistance, going to the doctor or doing chores, someone to watch the adult or child so they can get a break, fund-raising ideas and sharing ideas on how to live on a shoestring budget. This is a form for anybody on a fixed income, pensions, social assistance and disability. We have no gender, race, creed or colour. We hold meetings once a month and according to what would be beneficial to all group members. I speak on behalf of some of the group members and myself. I do my presentation upon a number of sections and a brief summary of opinions of each.
I say myself because I am, myself, a social assistance recipient. I am the mother of six children. I have been widowed, I have been divorced and now I am single. So I have gone in all ranges. First off I will go with the rent and mortgages, taxes and power. Now, I take some of these breakdowns out of your books that have been done on the summary discussion
papers. In our case our biggest problem is not having enough. First and foremost, we must have shelter like everyone else. By the time it is taken out of our expense budget, that leaves little for anything else and that is where the balancing comes in.
Next is the food and bills. It is necessary that we pay our bills like everyone else. Otherwise, we are out on the street, a situation in this day and age that does happen and should never be happening anywhere. A social worker should see that each and every one of their clients that comes through their door is at least steered in the right direction of where to go for help if they themselves don't know and spoken to with tact. Our community does have a food bank. It is a good thing to have but ours, Yarmouth, is not open during the summer but will open for emergency situations only. I think every case which someone needs the food bank is always an emergency.
In this day and age there shouldn't ever be need for food banks, as was brought up earlier, anywhere. We are supposed to be such a rich nation, a statement government stands by and fails to see that rich is not with all the people they represent; otherwise, there would be no need for this gathering of presentations. However, they do exist. While the food bank is good for some of those who need to carry over until the next cheque, not everyone can do that. Kraft Dinner and potatoes can be served up in only so many ways and they aren't nutritious. There are those who cannot in any way use the food bank groceries for various health reasons and one still needs personal products and household necessities to come into their budget.
Next is the medical. You have those with coeliac, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, asthma and I am sure many others I know one can name where people have restrictive food consumption that food banks cannot or are not able to provide for those of that need. Along with that there is a need for certain medications. Medications are costly for those who are on constant medication. The government no longer covers certain medications and those who have asthma and diabetes, it is a must for daily medications. Some families have more than one in a family for the need of assistance and it puts a strain on those all the way around, a scenario that I would never pretend to understand and one that I personally am glad I don't have. I do have to take medication of a different sort, one that I have to take for the rest of my life, but it costs nowhere near as much as for those with special needs of greater heights. That doesn't even count the over-the-counter medication yearly for such things as colds and flu medications. It is sad that the government felt the need to cut back on health care.
Naturally, we are an unhealthy nation given our income resources. We can't put nutrition in our daily diets and you have professionals going around talking about healing thyself. How? Somewhere government is failing to see priority. Our health care, from everywhere, is in the number of costly things among us. One day this government will be replaced with new faces of government and, once again, these priorities to fix the wrong and
to make it right will be misplaced. Family and a healthier new generation is a must. We have to be able to afford nutritional foods and educate how to prepare it.
The government has cut back on the needs of the family, especially in the dental area, especially with the children. The cutting age went from 16 to 14, 12, and now 10. It is ludicrous. The second set of teeth aren't even in yet. It is bad enough for the adults trying to avoid getting false teeth and in the meantime the cost of this must come out of the monthly income which is not even covered. If there are some stipulations, then there are a lot who know nothing about it. Social workers, again, should be telling their clients of any benefits of information they are entitled to know about.
As far as eye care, most households have at least one in the family who wears glasses. I am sure many of us do. It is another necessity that cannot be escaped. When I mention family, I am also speaking on behalf of seniors. Again, government chooses not to provide in the area of cost. MSI covers for a certain amount depending on how often one has to be seen in two years and that is for children only. The user fee alone is $40 before you are checked. There shouldn't be a user fee charge ever. I don't care if it is eyes or medical or for the doctor.
MR. MUIR: Was that a user fee for?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: The user fee for the eye checkup is $40 before you even get checked, I know, my daughter just got her eyes done twice and both times it cost.
Disability and pensions. Some of these people cannot work because of the reason of age, health or medical, and they, too, have the same battle of expenses that occur as others. They encounter the costs of hearing aids and special glasses and, once again, it is all costly.
Clothing, this is really costly as children grow fast. Thank goodness we have Frenchy's and the old-fashioned hand-me-downs. Children grow with the season and there is always something they are needing. Children wear their clothes until they can wear it no more as well as their footwear. As adults, we truss ourselves in what we can. Buying clothing new is a treat and I don't know anyone that doesn't appreciate having that to give one a boost to feeling good. The same goes for their hair styles and hair cuts. One always wants to feel good about themselves despite the budget means.
The phone, the one thing government hasn't changed, they call a luxury. No way at any given time in this day and age that is called a luxury. It is a necessity. Even the social worker finds it frustrating to have to track down their clients because of distance. We have the postal service to rely on but contact time is slower. Allowance in the worker's daily schedule must be allotted to contact their client and the client get back to them for
confirmation. Then, of course, the phone is for the obvious reasons, for the 911 services. The point for this one is acknowledgement and expenses needed to cover for this service which is not even included in anybody's budget anywhere that I know of, from province to province.
Travel expenses are covered for long distance driving outside of the community for medical trips only. There is, however, little coverage for all the expenses. One is given $18 for car expenses a month for one's vehicle. That is a joke. You, alone, cannot use to cover that for a month. The reality here is you need more - I don't even know where the figure came from, dare I even guess - for those who have a vehicle and have to have it to get around for various reasons the same as a full-time worker, we are no different than they are.
Childcare. There are those who need to have childcare in one form or another. For those who cannot get subsidy day care because the distance is so great or the day cares are so booked, it is costly for daily babysitting services. There are those who would like to go to work but that cost and it isn't in their budget to cover it and it is also costly to travel back and forth. I realize government is making some strides in this area but there are still the chosen few being left out and you will realize as Teresa had covered that basis, the young mothers, which was the topic that you just covered, for this is a reality that has existed for a long time.
Some of these teenagers do not get along at home but trying to cope on their own is an art form in itself and they have to grow up very fast. Young girls have to know that it is hard out there raising a baby by themselves and young fathers have to be responsible for their actions somehow. Government shouldn't be held ransom for children raising children but they do have obligations to help out some, if the family life is good then they can provide the extra cost to help the childcare for their baby. Repeated baby breeding should be studied. Young girls have to know why they have to be responsible for their actions. Parents cannot be making things easier for them. I am also the recipient of a young teenage daughter who has just turned 15 and interested in boys. So I am going to strive for and hope that she doesn't get caught up into the system regardless of my income.
Schools and sports, here every child in high school system have to have school supplies and, once again, some children who have to do without something or bum, beg, borrow, to get the necessities. We are also talking in the lower grades. Schools are all the time asking for monies but if it isn't there in the household, they can't get it. Children are even denied participating in some sports because of the cost of equipment. I learned the hard way that even when there is supposed to be funding for registration and equipment available for the children to participate, you are not necessarily going to get and that once again it comes out of your expenses that is not there and you don't have to disappoint the child and the frustration of the parent that there are those who are trying to mean well to help when it turns out it is a dud deal. Here the health board have been doing research on their own as to why children cannot participate and have to be healthy for our future; we were approached by the health board on this very topic.
On the education for this, it is not for everyone. For one it is affordability and the other is being able to go, because of household debts, of course, and other travel and childcare. EI recipients have help, but we fall in the cracks of no help. There are those of us who have to get our education with the same benefits as these of EI. There are those who would be working part-time or seasonal and can't qualify for EI - I am one of those - even the schools can help in this area. There are some day and night courses available, but there are some that aren't of any benefit to the average person, to take in the area of their job relations. Part-time work or volunteer work is available at times, but there are some among us who, once again, cannot afford transportation, or it is not available, or childcare.
Teachers are needed to teach courses that are job beneficial in the area, as well as leisure courses. Upgrading and tutoring are good and should always be available, but trade courses are hard to be had by most of us on fixed incomes.
In jobs. Jobs in this area are very scarce. Most jobs are part-time or seasonal and there are those who can only take the part-time or seasonal jobs. There are also some among us who cannot work some jobs because of medical reasons and, when we do work, we are penalized. When they figure out, working for slave wages of 25 cents a day, and sometimes it works out to be working for free, that does not give much incentive to work - and out of that comes the sitter and travel expenses - you really are working to say you are trying, but you are getting nowhere fast. I have been like many who have been up there, I raised six children. Some are mostly grown now and I have been put here by circumstances beyond my control and there are others in the same situation for the same reason.
For me it costs for travel and I have seen me work just seasonal work, just to keep the vehicle on the road, and not for the bread and butter on my table. Working means getting out of the home and doing something constructive like anybody else, to keep daily stress to a minimum. It hasn't been easy, but life for me is not as bad as those I have heard speak out during the focus sessions, and for that I am grateful. I have also been lucky enough to have understanding friends and bosses, but that still does not make life any easier for me with some children still at home. They still need and attention, as in any household. There are those who are no longer able to work because of age, health or availability, because of the age factor and struggling on the income basis of daily expenses is not easy. Everyone has circumstances and it brings forth frustration beyond their control.
In savings. No such thing. Everything you pocket goes into the household for one reason or another. One can't save much for the special occasion, i.e., birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, household emergencies, going out occasionally, or for their future. Savings get taken out of another fund to make way for the occasion. It means you take from one pot, put it into the other and penalize what you have to take care of. That's how you go out and have a good time.
Boyfriends and husbands. The most argumentative topic of all. When one has a male interest, one gets penalized. One should be allowed a personal life as much as anyone. You have the next door neighbour who is not happy that you are happy and, therefore, must bring his fellow man down, or just simply doesn't like you. Then you get a phone call, the welfare service gets the phone call causing all kinds of bitterness for whatever the reason. The caseworker is forced to interrupt her routine to find out what is going on when she could be tending to his or her clients' needs. If a man moves in, and if he moves in with a single mother on family benefits and the man is contributing income, then his income should be taken into account. It makes sense, and it eliminates a whole lot of heartaches. Cheating does occur out of ignorance of the rules and social workers are guilty of not telling their clients their choices or musts. The man-about-the-house rule applies here and that is not ever mentioned to the clients. Personal lives are just as special as the working man. The Bible says do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That means respect. Everyone deserves that.
The dead beat spouses. A topic dear to my heart. (Laughter) Get me going and I will tell you. A topic so familiar for so many of us, spouses who pay so little per child, amounts like $5, $25, $50, or $75, a joke to many who cannot understand why the working spouse pays so little and gets away with it and there are others who have to pay through the nose. I see their frustration. The courts are failing in this area badly and this is where it would relieve the social workers and governments of some of the cost burdens. Getting to these spouses would help a lot. Each case is different but, each paying father or mother who pay so little should be reviewed to relieve the social workers and governments of some of the cost burdens. Getting through the spouses would help a lot. Each case is different but each paying father or mother who pays so little should be reviewed. And that I truly believe. It can be done. Some rules are applied but only by a certain date. Those of the past cannot justify it without going back to court. Therein lies the problem, lawyer fees. No longer are legal aid representatives there to help the low income person of the past; this means of the past debts.
The other option is to represent yourself. When one is not used to the court proceedings you will not have the confidence to do it alone. That is what lawyers are for. This is one area that should be looked over dramatically by low paying spouses. I personally feel it would make a difference and I am a victim of that circumstance.
Case workers. One small comment: Tact. These case workers are overloaded, overworked and getting stressed out and, in the end, are not respecting their clients. This is where you gentlemen have questioned that earlier with Teresa. They need to put emphasis on sensitivity training for these people. They say, don't you have family to help. No, not all have families about us. Sometimes families that do exist do not want to help with the attitude, you got yourself this way, you get yourself out. You are on your own.
Then there are the churches who may or may not help, especially if you are not a member, and then they can only help you do so much. The social worker has to be up-to-date on what services are about them and with a little tact help their fellow client. We are human,
granted, but respect has to go both ways and being rude does not cut it. All the client wants to feel from their case worker is that he or she is trying, not walking out of their office like some kind of bum that deserves to be where they are and be lucky that you are getting what you are getting.
A social worker may have his hands tied and in reality the client knows that, but all she is is asking for is help and just needs to know that the worker cares to steer them in some kind of direction that will be a benefit to them. A client cannot ask for more than that. A good social worker gains a whole lot of respect from everyone including the workplace. A smile a day keeps one happy, even if it is hard sometimes. Myself, I have been very lucky but those about me that I have heard from within my group are not. I have even witnessed some coming in in tears and frustration, including even in the last meeting we had.
Lastly is the guilt. I end this by saying the biggest feeling that one has when on social assistance is guilt. Guilt that one is doing something wrong. Guilt that one should not have a good time or should not be buying things or going certain places. I remember one thing that struck me so off guard. An acquaintance saw that I had bought my younger ones each an ice cream cone and they were enjoying it immensely. What are you doing buying the kids ice cream treats? You should be putting that on for groceries. I was at a grocery store at the time. I felt so guilty. The person, of course, was only joking. I realized the children deserved the treat, but the little extra was somewhere else. There is the need to get out once in a while and you have to.
For me, I am most fortunate to have social workers and friends about to help me along in the way of trying to make things better, but for many it is a nightmare. I feel for these people. No one should be feeling so humbled, ashamed, having fear or guilt in circumstances that lie within. Self-esteem plays a great part in this but that is something that needs to be learned and for some that is hard to do. Circumstances have put those of us here and most of us do not like it. Society has to be educated in that we are not welfare bums. They too can be put there and it can happen; yourselves included. There are those from various professions in this situation and liking it is not a problem. It is surviving it.
As a footnote, as a non-profit group we have been having help in getting started with the local media, Parents Place, Status of Women and now with our local MLA, John Deveau. For that we are thankful. We are in hopes of having our own space but, again, with as all of us who attend tonight, funding is needed and then we hope to branch out and bring help to others in the strength and educating the public about those on welfare or social assistance. I am currently being involved with groups in our county, in particular the empowering group and hope that TriCounty will eventually work in conjunction with the other groups and that includes with those that Diane Crowell and Teresa Godsoe have been speaking with.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
I think I will ask Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: It is pretty hard to start with that. She has covered about every side of the topic that you could possibly cover.
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: I think I probably forgot some. I know if I think hard enough I can find it.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I think she does address all the issues, many of the issues, if not all of them. Is it possible, could we get a copy of your brief as well?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: I have given this lady some with the exception of my footnote statements but that is okay. Barring all errors of spelling, you will have it.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I just want to go back to one comment you made and that was in one of the last groups you were in and the frustration of some people trying to deal with the system. Does it come in particular areas or is it totally tied to social assistance?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Mostly for me it would be this subject in particular that is dear to heart, those on social assistance and low income, period. The frustration is unreal, you cannot imagine it.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: But they can access the system but it is in trying to live within their means?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: That is right, yes, because you have to budget and you receive so little money. Like Theresa had said some people get $670 a month, others get maybe a total of $1200 but regardless it depends on how many children there are in a family and also if you are just a single person yourself. A lot is based on what is involved. You not only have the children involved but you have your daily expenses. Sometimes when you have been married and divorced you are stuck with debts and there you have extra bills. It is not there because you put yourself there, it is there because it was the given and it was not given because you wanted it, you are stuck with it. Now you have to try to spend all of this time trying to bail yourself out, along with trying to raise a family and go to work, get an education, take courses, et cetera. So there are all the stresses just as much as for the working person. I have been in all of those routes, I have been working, have been put out of work, now I am working part-time, seasonal, you name it. I have seen all the routes.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Madam Chair, just a question with regard to after April 1st we have moved to a one-tier system, that is that the province now has taken responsibility for overseeing the program and the funding. It has been my experience, at least in my riding, that there now seems to be a lack of discretionary power on the part of a local caseworker. Would that be your experience? Do you see the one-tier system being an improvement or does it have some problems?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Actually it has some problems because even our mayor and one of our councillors have even pointed that out in the local media. We see that in amongst our groups, daily frustrations of housing, some of them are put out on the street. There are some homeless people here, believe it or not, it is so hard to believe. The food banks are just not there for nutritional value so you have got all kinds of conflicts, especially with money. You are only cut down from one cheque to another. Some are cut back or it is taken from them because they are not only investigating the situation and what has been going on around them so therefore they are cut from one cheque to the other.
Social workers, I realize, are being over-booked and over-worked and they can only go in so many areas. If they get a call from somebody the very least they could do is check into those cases. When they do not do that, you find many of these people have their cheque cut back. Some of them are warned and some are not. I do not know all of the circumstances of various cases and some are caught off-guard. That leaves them frustrated and you have to hire a lawyer to handle their case. Legal Aid is not available anymore, they handle certain circumstances but you then have to fend for yourself. I am trying to get myself into one expense category but that comes in another area. Everybody's circumstances are so different so yes, the one-tier and two-tier system has been frustrating all the way around for various people.
I have been working part-time, although I have been working for next to nothing like I mentioned, for 25 cents a day or practically for free at all ends. Some of the monies that I get has helped out in between the cheques but I get them deducted. Everything comes deducted. Everything you get in you have to report, regardless of whether you are making $100, $200, the allotted amount, even if you are making under it or over it. Everything from what the government has put in it has taken everything back out so there is no incentive. With this system, it just adds more burden.
MR. BALSER: If you could make one recommendation to this committee to address the concerns that you painted a broad picture of there, if you could make one recommendation what would it be?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Oh, boy! I am not sure. Like you said, I covered so many and they should all be recommendations. I guess maybe the one dearest to my heart would be the deadbeat spouses. I really believe that some of these fathers and mothers that have to pay and I go with the fathers mostly because there are very few females paying income, they pay so
little when it's old cases. I am one of those on the older cases so they do not go back to the ones that the government says, now, because they claim the children, right. Now under the new income tax laws it goes back so many years which is not that far back. I am outdated on that end and so therefore you cannot claim to get more. Getting more would help even, like I said, the governments and the social workers. Naturally that would be taken out of your cheque but it will balance out and be even that the government would say there, the fathers are taking care of their children.
When I hear things like $5, $25, $50 and $75 per kid, that is a laughing matter. What father is not going to go away laughing? It is just ridiculous. I guess that would be mostly where I would come away on the one recommendation that they must look at the most. Other than all of the other things, the rest are priorities, but I really think and believe that the fathers should be reviewed. There are those who have remarried now - not saying that they should not be remarried, I am thankful that he is - (Laughter) but he does have the responsibility of being able to fork out more than what he does and now he is dealing with two families.
Really, I am telling you if you get me going on that subject, you will have to leave the room. That is really where my heart is at, getting the fathers to pay more. I mean $50, what is that? That does not even cover bread and butter and the children are the ones that are suffering for that. I mean, I have to raise them until they are 18 years old. I say half are grown because my first three are from my late husband and now are old enough to be on their own but the other three, they have surviving fathers. One of them is doing fine, he is paying a respectable amount but the last one is not, does not even care. That is where my frustration lands, really.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: I had actually two questions but I think we are running out of time so I will stop at one. You are the first person that we have met in these series of discussions that has really mentioned the legal aid system. I thought you perhaps have indicated that they will not take on sort of the domestic affairs of people who are in the system. Can you just elaborate a little bit on this because you are the first one who has mentioned that?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: In my case, I did approach them and the reason being was that my ex-husband had used them for the divorce case and I too but I was referred to another lawyer outside of legal aid so they would pay for those services. Because he was a client, I cannot take him back to court using legal aid. So, therefore, I have to use the regular lawyer and that regular lawyer is going to cost me. You are not covered for these occasions, right, or I have to represent myself. There is a strength that I do not have to behold, trying to be a lawyer for myself. That means I have to go and do the job of the legal aid lawyer.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: I do not really have any questions but just a comment. I thought your presentation was very thorough and that you touched on a lot of really, really good issues. When I heard you speaking, I was thinking back to a time when I was a young, single mother of 19 and I had to be on welfare for a very short period of time. It kind of brought back some of the frustrations and anger that you feel when people really do not understand why you are where you are at. So I thank you for that presentation, it was excellent.
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: The same here, Lois. I want to say there is nothing like an experienced messenger to bring you the information. I want to just go back to the social assistance workers notifying the clients what is available to them. As previous presenters, I want you to know that I have spoken with the Deputy Minister, Mr. L'Esperance, because I do believe that there is a very real need for a brochure indicating to the recipients what is available to them, through what programs and what organizations and advocacy groups could they reach out to get help through their social assistance programs.
The other concern is a question that I have to you. I understand that a number of people are on family benefits, primarily in rural communities there are a number of recipients who are on family benefits. Can I ask you a question? Are they encouraged to go to an income assistance program?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Income assistance program. I don't think that even exists in here. If there is, the social worker is not stating any of these situations. Every area has different things that crop up and there are some areas that do not have the same programs as others. Just as every province has different social service programs and they deal with it on their own. I have to say I really cannot tell you that.
MR. PYE: The reason why I say that is that when you made the earlier statement that in fact when people have special needs, like glasses, dental work and so on, normally when the recipient is on family benefits the recipient calls their case worker. The case worker then tells them that they cannot provide that for them, that they have to go through another program. It is policy that the case worker cannot do that so they must call the intake clerk and the intake clerk then must review their application to see if they qualify for that special benefit or that special program.
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Yes, but not every client is aware of that program that is available. I am one of those. I have taken everything I have ever earned and taken it out of my pockets, including my social cheque which is not covered. I have been doing it for years and to me it is like normal so I go in debt. I go ahead two and go back ten. It will be that until my children have left.
MR. PYE: I just want to say, just briefly, that I have heard that when people and individuals tell me they were encouraged to go on income assistance rather than to continue to stay on family benefits because then the family benefits recipients numbers are reduced. It looks good by the provincial government. The person is on income assistance so therefore they will get those special needs that they want but their food allotment and their other budgets are dropped down considerably. The special needs may only occur once a year or during that short period of time. That is the reason why I wanted to ask you that question, if in fact that is coming to the fore.
The other question and my final question is that when social services recipients are cut off do you find that they receive a last minute notice so they have no opportunity to respond?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: I am hearing that some of them may have and I am sure you will hear from some of the people who will confirm that in one form or another before the night is out. For myself I have heard that some of them have been given notice and some have not. They are caught off guard. I only say that because that is what I am hearing from them. It is not so in my case. I am one of the luckier ones who has a telephone and I can use that. Others cannot. Some have to rely on the old postal service.
MR. PYE: Yes, but excuse me, Community Services Department sends them out a letter and the letter is dated and then it tells them how many days they have to respond and they are actually cut off. I have seen some of those letters.
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: I just said they would find some of the clients are crying about that. Like they are speaking about this cut-off thing. More and more of them have been saying about it, going through various social workers is a frustration and asking why. That puts me out in the dark because not everybody is going to come to me because I am not the social worker. You know what I am saying. I am just one that takes the messages.
MR. PYE: You are an anti-poverty group.
MADAM CHAIR: Well, I am a social worker and I don't think I have ever heard such an excellent presentation. You could certainly teach people who are learning and training to be social workers about what the issues are and what that reality is. Your presentation was just excellent.
I have a question. You made a comment that you no longer qualify for EI or you cannot qualify for EI even though you are a part-time worker. I am wondering how prevalent that is with people who are involved with your group. Do you know other people in the area who are experiencing the same problem now, not able to qualify for EI?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: No because most of the people who are in my group don't work part time or seasonal. Some of them have tried working some, but they found that it does not pay them to work and that is where incentive comes in. I am probably the only one that I know of and because this is seasonal or part-time work in this case, you do not get enough hours in for EI, so when you are reporting your income, you are getting slashed and when it all comes down, you still have to pay back, you know, $15 or $22 out of your cheque because you are $200-some dollars overpaid, all because I am working.
I realize the social worker is frustrated with that, it may be so, but it is much more frustrating for the person who has to balance a budget and work with their family and say where the money is going to go, in all of those topics that I covered, and it is impossible. You are in debt for life and you are owned by Social Services for the rest of your life because you do not have any means of getting ahead. As far as education goes, taking a course would be fine; I would love to. Employment Insurance recipients are getting all of the pleasures - I do not mean that disrespectfully - I mean that they are getting benefits, but it is a lot easier for them because they are getting their cheque and they are able to get their schooling and provide for their family. I am one of the ones who falls through the cracks. I have called the schools and asked, isn't there a program, because social work is what I would want to take. Not only is the course booked, there is a line-up for these courses, but it is having the money to go and that puts me even further into the hole with what debts I have got that I have been left with since my divorce.
I cannot speak for all of the people who are in my group, whether they worked part time, I am sure they have and I am sure they have worked seasonal, but with that I am almost positive none of them get Employment Insurance. My social worker asked me if I am getting EI and I said, no, I do not get enough hours and even if I did they would take it out of me, it would still come out of my cheque, so no matter how you look at it, all money you bring in is going to be taken out of you.
MADAM CHAIR: Before 1990, in Canada, the number of unemployed workers who qualified for UI was around 75 per cent and it is down to about 36 per cent today. So you know the changes have really disentitled a lot of people from the EI system and it has thrown them on to the provincial income support systems. It is incredible really but that is something that the federal government is going to have to, I think, come to terms with.
The final point I would make is about your anti-poverty group. It is really great to see a group organized here. I do not know if you have have any links or contact with the National Anti-poverty Organization?
MS. LOIS LEBLANC: Not yet, no, we are a new group and are still now just getting started, but we do not have our own office so we are just like floating around and being helped by other people such as Parents Place and an RMI office. Hopefully, one day, we will get funding and be able to know where to go to have that local establishment and keep networking with the other groups such as the one you mentioned. There is a network advocate group in Halifax that writes me once in a while and keeps me in touch with what is going on up there, but I cannot attend those meetings. I would just love to, I would be there every meeting. Street Feat is a nice little paper up there in Halifax. I only have had one copy and, hopefully, I am trying to get a subscription to it. It is an excellent paper. I just wish they could be down this way for the others.
Slowly, if I can get that going, because I am founder of this group, then I can do all of what I can do in the networking field and keep in touch with others. This is where the women's centre will come in handy, because then we can have a roof over our heads and work in conjunction with other groups as well, and it would be most beneficial. So the frustrations right now are just like a baby, you have to learn to grow. The Health Department has been helpful, the food bank has been helpful in letting us know different things there, too, but my problem is, again, access to information and those people who cannot get out because of childcare and travel, to attend some of these meetings. My numbers vary from probably nobody to maybe 15 or 16 people. It all depends on people getting out or getting access to the information of the meetings.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, this was very good. Good luck.
Our next presenter is Holly Thomas from Parents Place.
MS. HOLLY THOMAS: I apologize for not having a written report, but unfortunately I am just getting back from a meeting. Denise Benoit was supposed to be in my place, and I am back. I say unfortunately meaning that I just came from a conference. First let me introduce myself, Holly Thomas, and I am here from Parents Place, a family resource centre that is funded by CAPC. I just came from a conference; they have just let me know that we will soon be cut 17.6 per cent in our budget. Again, I come with a sense of frustration.
First of all, let me commend Lois for her wonderful presentation. I know her personally, and I sense her frustration and I also come somewhat with a heavy heart because, again, I work at Parents Place and I see the frustration of a lot of parents or people in the community dealing with the same types of issues on a daily basis such as those that Lois has just mentioned. The number of things that we do at Parents Place, we try to help the community out as much as possible but, again, we are funded on a very little amount of money, with which we do parenting programs, children's programs, et cetera. I won't go into the number of programs that we do, because they are phenomenal, because of the amount of community need.
One of the things that we do is supplementary programs. We do this above and beyond our mandate. We are mandated to serve families of children of ages zero to six; we go well beyond that. Again, we are funded very little, we have to go beyond that, beyond our mandate. But we do provide supplementary programs such as clothing exchange, costume exchange, adopt-a-family at Christmas, milk and diaper bank, and so on and so on. We see the need to do that because, as Lois said and as Teresa and Diane had mentioned, there is very little money left on the amount of money that social assistance recipients are receiving.
We feel that we have to be able to try to help. We do exchanges because we at least try to maintain a sense of pride and self-esteem in our participants at Parents Place. One of the things that we would like to, all of our programs are participant driven, meaning that we do not do a program unless the community asks for a program. We were very fortunate over the summer to be able to receive a grant to hire a student. It was asked by some of our moms to be able to hire a male student, preferably, because of the lack of positive male role models. We have children that are on the waiting list for Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Again, I work in cooperation with them.
I also have heard Diane and Teresa mention about a women's centre, and I also would like to see something like that in place in Yarmouth, so that I could have the additional help that I need to serve the community. I struggle, I work sometimes 70 hours a week, I get paid for 35. We just had a provincial meeting, as I said, where they have sort of brought us together, and said, sorry, we are taking a little bit of money from you.
I sense the frustration over the province of the overwork that is happening, and it is basically because we are community-based and we sense the frustration. We see, again, on a regular basis the need for additional services. When we talk about dental and medical and glasses and we talk about people in poverty, I forget the gentleman's name here, but when he said, can we come up with a means of providing some intervention. I think we have to start with the kids.
When we are looking at providing intervention that is where I think we have to start. We see parents that come in that we can provide some, again, supplementary programs, parenting programs, a resource we may need to refer them to or try to help them in whatever way we can. Again, I see this as let's start with the kids and just let me read this. This was handed to me again at the meeting that we had and I would like to say this loud and clear. In 1989 all political Parties voted in the House of Commons to end child poverty. That was almost 10 years ago. Please do not delay any longer. Centre your budget for the 1999-2000 fiscal year on the urgent needs of the one in five Canadian children who live in poverty. I plead with you to act now. As Canadians, let us hold our heads up high as we enter the new millennium. Draft a budget that will end child poverty before the year 2000.
I cannot say that enough. I believe that children need to be number one. Again children come with parents so we have to look at this in a holistic view but I feel that we need to look at some of the things that help children, such as the number of things that were just brought up. Early intervention, all these things that we have to look at as a community and as a resource centre or as one person. As Parents Place, I don't feel that I can do it all but sometimes I feel that I am an end-all as a saviour and I really don't feel that I can do that.
I am pleading for some additional money for our centre. I know that there are some dollars that perhaps could come our way to help extend our programs that we do perhaps extend to the families that are beyond age six. As we all know, children don't end at age six or families don't end at age six. So I am asking if there is a possibility of some form of additional money to help supplement our program.
Again, as I said, I came with not a written agenda and I am sort of just going off the top of my head. I am sure I am going to leave here and say, oh, I should have said this or I should have said that. I am relying on some questions. I am hoping that we could generate some discussion around children and families and communities and how we could all help, I believe. I am going to end it there and hope that I can answer some questions.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much.
MR. PYE: Thank you, Holly. I am not going to have any questions for you but I want to say that I deeply regret the message that you received tonight that your funding was cut by some 17.6 per cent. I guess you said that was CAPC funding. I just want to say my sympathies go out to you.
MS. THOMAS: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: I just have one question. Ms. Thomas, how many parents use your centre, would you say, over the course of a month or so?
MS. THOMAS: Over the course of a month? I guess it is according to the number of programs and so on. Actually we just did a biannual report and we figure that including programming, including just dropping in because we have a drop-in, we always have coffee and parents can come in with their children. We also have toy lending and information resources. We are looking at over 200 families per month that utilize our centre. That may only mean that they may have called us and said, where can I find some cheap childcare. Again, this is another issue. I knew as I went along I would think of some of the other issues that I would like to bring up.
What we have done is to develop a childcare directory from the different agencies in our community and also for those who do home-based childcare. We find that there are a lot of people calling almost in desperation. You know, I have to do this or I have to do that and I really need childcare. I feel that is one of the things that we need to look at. We cannot hand over our children to anyone that will allow us to pay $5.00. We need to have available childcare, we need to feel that if we do find a job or if we are out looking for a job perhaps, that our children are well looked after. I think that is a really important issue.
MS. ATWELL: You said that you get your funding from CAPC. Is that 100 per cent funding? Do you do any fund-raising or expect to do any?
MS. THOMAS: We do fund-raising and again, I reiterate, I am not a person that can do everything. Fund-raising is one of the things that we are required to do for any additional programs that we may have. I work under a volunteer board, again, it goes back to the volunteers to do the fund-raising. Also, let me give you an idea of where I work. I work out of a building that this area here probably could fit. We could probably fit four or five of our resource centres in this area. It is not conducive to what we are trying to do. Again, it is very cheap so we work in an area that is not even big enough generally for anyone to turn around in. As a fund-raising effort, we are trying to look toward a bigger building, a bigger resource centre, hopefully to allow housing for a lot of the different agencies to come into our building if we were able to obtain a larger building.
What I would like to see happen would be somewhat of a rotating office so anyone that would come to Parents Place would be able to receive childcare downstairs and they would see, perhaps, Mental Health, Victims Services, et cetera in an office. They would not have to worry about childcare, not pay for childcare and for us to be able to offer the services to them on a regular basis. So that is something I am working on right now. I have gone to the Royal Bank to see if there is the possibility of purchasing a building. They will loan us the money but loaning us the money now that there is the fear of being cut, I am not so sure if our board is going to go for fund-raising to buy a larger building. We are really trying to help out at a grass-roots level. I just do not find that I am having all of the key players helping me to do that and that is why I am here tonight, to let you know that we are doing a good job, I can see that we are but additional help from outside sources would allow us to do an even better job.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Just one question. We have heard presentations from Parents Place, from the TriCounty Anti-Poverty Group, from Women for Community Economic Development in Southwest Nova. Do you network, is there a formal mechanism by which you come together and directions are shared and if so, what is it?
MS. THOMAS: Yes there is. Actually I am not sure how it came about but the Anti-Poverty Group meets at Parents Place, or it did and now they are meeting at the MLA's office, so Lois has used our facility for the group. I am also a member of the Anti-Poverty Group, the association, I work hand in hand with Theresa Godsoe with Early Childhood Intervention. Again, we are limited in resources and we feel that we need to work together and we do do that.
MS. GODSOE: Our project proposal which was just received began in my living room with Lois, Holly and me writing the first draft and then it went from there. So the people who are doing the work are tying it all together.
MS. THOMAS: We do all work together and I look at it as being pretty ironic that we are all here sort of saying help, help, help and this is . . .
MR. BALSER: But there is not a formal organization that oversees the various programs like a directorate?
MS. THOMAS: No, there isn't.
MR. BALSER: Thank you, that was it.
MADAM CHAIR: I have a question about the CAPC money and the meeting you were at. So you said it was a provincial meeting but I take that to mean it was a meeting of all the CAPC groups in the province. Is that correct?
MS. THOMAS: Actually it was all the Atlantic Provinces. I am sorry. It was the Atlantic Provinces, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.
MADAM CHAIR: So the feds are cutting across the board CAPC programs, are they?
MS. THOMAS: Across the board but not necessarily that amount per province. Nova Scotia is the largest cut.
MADAM CHAIR: And why is this? Why are they saying this is happening?
MS. THOMAS: Because they do not have the dollars. This is the reason that they gave us.
MADAM CHAIR: They didn't mention the budget surplus? They think we don't read down here.
MS. THOMAS: Actually the reason that they gave us for the cut is that awhile back we looked at a 51.91 per cent cut and I am not sure if it was our lobbying efforts or whatever but we did manage to get that back. Beyond that 59.1 per cent, 29 per cent of that was not to be directed back to Nova Scotia. So they felt to honour us into the year 2000 they tried to look for additional money to compensate for that. They gave us that that we were not supposed to get and now they say they have exhausted all their resources and that is no longer available.
Let me add that we beg, borrow and practically steal from every place in Yarmouth to try to get additional funds or fund-raise to do other things. As I said, we know that families go well beyond the age of six and our little playroom that we do have, we end up turning children away because of the lack of space. If you are a nonprofit organization, funding for space and heat and so on is very limited.
MADAM CHAIR: Just one final point on the efforts that you are putting in to developing maybe what I would call more of a multiservice centre. There are some really good examples of these kinds of approaches, particularly in the Province of Quebec where in communities not unlike Yarmouth that have an industrial base or had an industrial base and are trying to re-establish and link social and economic issues. They would be well worth looking at. They do some really interesting things across health, education and community services and economic development.
Our next presentation is from John Deveau, the MLA for Yarmouth. John is not here.
The next person on our list is Betty Roberts, private citizen.
MS. BETTY ROBERTS: I am Betty Roberts and I am just really a concerned citizen. The thing that is dear to my heart are the seniors. I just made a few brief notes. Our time is getting late so I shan't hold you, understanding that we all need a bit of rest.
This past season I have retired after working with seniors for 45 years. I have made the rounds in the hospital, I have specialled. I have worked at different homes throughout the area here and in Ontario. I went back to school, by the way, at the age of 48. I took my CNAs. I took my pharmacology and special diets. This past summer, my husband and I travelled across Canada, and the thing that I noticed the most was the seniors. Of course, that would be the thing that I would notice the most, but I noticed the seniors that are on their own are in pretty hard straits. They are very poorly clothed, you can see that they are malnourished. They really don't look for any assistance, because they usually don't see a helping hand or a kind face or a smile, they don't even look for it anymore.
When they are on their own like this, they do have homemakers go in, and I understand this is across Canada. There is very little supervision with their meds. People are discharged from hospitals with poor eyesight and they are injecting insulin into themselves.
They are very poorly cared for. Their baths are very few and far between. I had the unpleasant situation of being next to a lady a month or so ago in the hospital who went for three days without a bath. I find that . . .
MR. MUIR: She was an in-patient there?
MS. ROBERTS: She was a patient along with myself. I have complained, and I have seen some results from that, but this lady was in her 80's with one eye, a bad diabetic, bad heart and her kidneys were gone.
Meal preparation in their home is very minimal. I am finding that a lot of the seniors that I talk to, who are diabetics, are having home care, but their meals are prepared at any time of the day, and of course, a diabetic can't do that. They must stay on a regular basis. I am finding that seniors have very little choice about where they go. They are not placed where they may want to go, but instead, wherever they can be figured in. If this isn't done one way, then they are just plain doped, set in a wheelchair, and you will see them going down the hall. That was another experience that I had a month ago. This is still going on. I thought that had been done away with, but it hasn't.
It just seems like a lot of them just have expressionless faces. They just have absolutely nothing to look forward to. If you look at the Old Age Security that the government sees fit to pay them, it is less than $400 a month. If they are fortunate enough to get a subsidy, it comes up to $800 a month. After a person works a lifetime and they have paid taxes those years, when you reach 80 or 90 years of age, you surely should be worth more than $800 a month. If you have worked extra hard and you have been fortunate enough to pay into your Canada Pension, then you get the clawback from the government, so they don't get anything out of that.
I noticed with a lot of the presentations that were made here tonight, it seems to be a problem as to where people can go. Here is another fault that I find with social services. As I say, I did the full round with seniors, and the last number of years, I have tended three outsiders and my dad in my home. I didn't mind this, these people shared my home, they were happy there, they weren't crying to go home. I know of several homes in the area, they are looking for between $1,000 and $1,500 a month to tend these seniors that are in homes. Some of them are bedridden, and they are still giving them a day care worker that comes in two or three times a day, makes a sandwich or slaps together some kind of a meal, and leaves that person in bed with the T.V. turner.
It is little wonder to me that we keep hearing about them burning up in their homes, about them wandering off and dying of exposure or maybe drowning or just getting locked out of their home and freezing to death. It is just really not a very acceptable way to end your years, after you have worked and paid taxes all those years. I feel that they are really being cheated. They are being forgotten, they are like a forgotten generation. We look at what
Hitler did to the Jews, and we really are appalled by that, but this is a form of genocide that is taking place with these seniors that are being compelled to stay in their homes. A lot of them would probably go in a private home, and there are many of those homes. There are many people who are unemployed. We have heard that over and over again here tonight. There are a number of people who would take three of those people in, they would be happy to take care of them for $1,000 a month or $1,500 a month. Social services will not allow it. This government registers homes with nobody in them that is qualified to tend these people, to take care of these people. Why are these names not being given out by social services? There are only a very few names given out. Yet, in my case, people were not referred to me, I went on my good reputation, and thank Heaven I had it, because I had very few referrals from social services. But I was recommended by doctors to their patients. This is where my clientele came from.
I didn't just have poor people, one of the ladies that I took care of was a scientist, she actually isolated a gene in the human body that nobody knew existed. She worked in cancer research. There were a number of people that I did care for that had the means to stay wherever they chose, however they chose to stay in my home for that little bit of extra care. They are not sitting there crying. These things that we see in the homes, it is really heart- reading to me. I find it hard. It was one of the things that I really noticed in travelling. Apparently, this is a nation-wide problem. I was in a home in B.C. where the lady was minus one lung and part of the other, and she was doing her housework with about 25 feet of oxygen hose. It is not a very pleasant end to your life.
I am just wondering if there isn't some way that social services, that a recommendation can't be made to this government to recognize some of these other homes? Since they have put a moratorium on the registration of special cares, why can't they put out some of these other names, even through the local services? Some of these people are well qualified. Some of the people running these homes, that do not have licences are RNs, but yet their name is not given out. I don't understand this. I will let it go at that. If anybody has any questions.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you. I am sure there will be some questions. Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Not me.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: The homes that you are referring to, Betty . . .
MS. ROBERTS: They are just private homes.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Just private homes, okay, and they are not licensed by government, although they have RNs that are caring for people in their own private homes. Is that it?
MS. ROBERTS: Right, but they are not being referred there. Instead, this government chooses to take people from, say in my instance, when I just had my dad, after I retired I knew my dad was dying, so I let a couple of other ladies go, one had died with Alzheimer's and I let the other two ladies go, I placed them. I was able to have a community worker come in and sit with my dad for a couple of hours, twice and week. I am finding that, I live in Ohio with a homemaker across the road, but instead, I would get a homemaker from Kempt. Another would be like, maybe there are people living in Yarmouth, there are people who need their care in Yarmouth, but they are driving to Pubnico.
The whole system is very poorly organized. It is running at a greater cost than there is any need. We have unemployment in Yarmouth that is just unreal. If people were allowed to take in two or three people, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to take care of a senior. It is merely a matter of having a bit of patience and knowing how to prepare a decent meal and keep them clean.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I still fail to understand some of it. My home, I could open it up to any number of people, two or three people, whatever, if seniors came in, but the only income they have to pay for their way is their . . .
MS. ROBERTS: Their pension, usually.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Their pension. Are you talking something over and above that pension that . . .
MS. ROBERTS: Yes. I don't see why social services objects to it. You are paying $3,600 a month in Tidal View.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Okay. Now I get you.
MS. ROBERTS: And a lot of those people are up and about. They just merely need supervision, somebody to administer their medications or see that they are properly taken, and that they are properly fed and bathed and taken care of. On a 3 to 1 basis, like when I worked at Tidal View I had seven who were incapacitated on E-wing and when I worked on D-wing I would have 13 people to attend to between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Those would be people who would be up and about but you would still have manicures and pedicures and baths and so on to do.
In a sense the people get better care. You have to look at it from this point of view as well. If your living is depending upon a person's well-being and they are being taken care of, when their bed is empty you don't get paid. On the other hand you can go in a home where you are going to be miserable whether you want to be there or not and when you die somebody else takes your bed. Which one do you think is going to live the longest?
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: Unfortunately, I guess, in my county we are having a hard time getting beds. Our beds are all heavy care, extremely heavy care, and the units are used.
MS. ROBERTS: I had heavy care. I had extremely heavy care.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: We are now getting them back up in their home situation and trying to take care of them at home. Anyway, I will leave that. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: You mentioned three facilities, one I caught was Tidal View. Are they homes for special care?
MS. ROBERTS: Yes, they are, and they are all funded by the government. It seems as if the government persists in putting people in these homes whether they want to go there or not. I don't really think that is right. I think a person is an individual and I want that right to choose where I want to go. I don't want somebody doping me, putting me in a wheelchair and wheeling me down the aisle. I don't think that is right.
MR. PYE: Are there any senior citizens' homes in Yarmouth and southwest Nova Scotia?
MS. ROBERTS: You mean the private homes?
MR. PYE: No, I mean the senior citizens' facility where in fact it is not a home for special care but it is a facility where seniors go and live, much like apartment units and so on.
MS. ROBERTS: Yes, they do have seniors' apartments in the area. The only thing that I found when I did a bit of delivery of food was that a lot of people in those homes are not able to take care of themselves either. When you take their meals and their ankles are swollen, they obviously have heart trouble and they are retaining fluid really badly and they are puffing, they will tell you, I can only do so much and then I have to sit down.
MR. PYE: My final remark is that I guess if I could guess what you are saying, it would be something like an adopt-a-senior program whereby the senior could live in a home with someone else and that the benefits they receive from their Old Age Pension and their
CPP would be additionally supplemented by Community Services so that they could have the adequate funding to live there and be well cared for.
MS. ROBERTS: That is right because there are so many people who would do that. If people knew that they were going to have referrals to those homes, because there are a number of people, for example in Tidal View and those government-run homes, that are up and about. There is no reason why they could not be in a home. They just require a little extra care, a little guidance. A lot of seniors become confused because they are so frustrated and they are frightened. They are frightened to stay in homes. Sometimes they will have long hospital stays and you will get the nurses who are good, but then again you will get a nurse who will say, you can't stay here, this is a hospital. Have you found a place to go yet?
How are they going to find a place to go? They are 80 or 90 years old. I know when I took my dad in he was 94 in almost five months and they looked at me and said, well, we don't see people this age anymore. I did say to the one nurse, no, because they are dying off at home with no help before they ever get to be this age.
MR. PYE: I guess finally you are aware that if there was such a program there would be specific requirements in order for seniors to live in those homes. There would have to be specific requests that would have to be met by Community Services with respect to the experience of the individuals in those homes.
MS. ROBERTS: We say this, but we have homes licenced in Nova Scotia with no requirements. There is nobody there who is trained to take care of these seniors. The home is registered, but the person who is managing that home is not and often there is no one in that home with any qualifications, is what I am saying.
If you look at it in this way, too, if a person would take a senior in it would employ that person. They in turn would employ someone else because they would want a break. Even if they had someone who would come in and sit with that person, you would have two people employed. This way we are stuffing them all in a home and we are looking at one person trying to tend 13. It is not possible to do that.
MR. PYE: Yes, I agree with you. Finally, Madam Chair, I would say there are a number of concerns around that, putting people in a 10' X 10' room and telling then that is their home.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: I just wanted to thank you, Betty, for coming out. We have not received a large number of presentations which have dealt with the needs of seniors and yours is very clear. The number of seniors keeps increasing each year. In the past couple of weeks I have been through some of these situations that you were describing and the quality of life for some
of these people is really not very good. I think there have to be some other options such as those you were describing although, I can tell you right now, there would be a tremendous backlash if anybody did suggest that things would not be regulated.
MS. ROBERTS: I think it is good to regulate and I think it is good to monitor that regulation. It is no good to have regulations and then go unmonitored, but there are some beautiful homes in the area and . . .
MR. MUIR: I agree. We take a boarder in our house too and nobody ever checked us out.
MS. ROBERTS: I was checked several times, in fact, I had people come down from Halifax and from Kentville and they were very much impressed with my home. They said it was too bad that I was retiring and I had told them that before they were going to come but I am picky and I am fussy. My folks were bathed every day, their beds were stripped right to the mattress, even the mattress pad was washed and everything was put on clean. They were dressed every day, their make-up was put on and their jewellery and they felt like human beings.
When I see them sitting around all day in a nightdress I do not take it very . . .
MR. MUIR: It is discouraging.
MS. ROBERTS: It is discouraging for them. Would you want to do it? I do not think I would and I do not think I would want to be stuck in a home where I was sitting behind a door. It is nice for those who need to be near a hospital, those who really need to be there. They are past caring where they are so they will accept that. They may even feel a bit of security by being closer to a hospital or if they are on IV, I can see them being there, I can understand that. Some of them are just such wonderful people and they have so much to share. It soon leaves them if you sit them behind a door and they sit there and cry until noon trying to get the bed made and I have experienced this. I left because my nerves could not stand it.
MADAM CHAIR: Like Mr. Muir, I too would like to thank you for bringing issues with respect to seniors, seniors' poverty, home care, long-term care, standards, all of those issues, to us because they are really important and it is a growing number of people in our community who are aging, the demographics are changing and we do need to think about the best ways to deal with people's needs respectfully, humanely and whatever. It is interesting that you raised this question because we have had deinstitutionalization in so many sectors with so many groups but with seniors we really haven't, I suppose, in some ways, have we. So you have raised a really interesting question for this committee to consider when we get ready to put our report together and . . .
MR. MUIR: One of the things that is interesting is that the move in Nova Scotia has been for some years to put people into the community. Yet, at the seniors level it is . . .
MS. ROBERTS: As you have said it is getting to be a bigger problem, we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg now, this is just the beginning and I can see this. I still get calls and like I say, I had no referrals, other than from doctors and people like that. I think it would be so much cheaper for the government as well. I think there are homes that are bad homes and I have heard some about that and I have poked around a little bit and seen a little bit of this. On the whole, most people are happier in with a family if they can be accepted into the family. I am not saying allow people to take older folks in and say this is a two by four room and this is your room and you can't come out of there. I like to see them come out and be the family. Let them be your family; don't stuff them away like a little puppy or something that you don't want to bother with. That's not the idea at all.
Our folks shared our living room; they watched TV with us; they ate at the same table with us and people were really surprised. I don't know how many people I had come into my home and say, oh, you keep elderly people here. I can't smell them. I mean really, you know, would you like to go a week without being bathed or three days? I wouldn't. However, I want to thank you for your time. I really appreciate that and I am glad you're getting a few other people who are interested in the seniors besides myself, because I am getting there.
MADAM CHAIR: So are we all. Thank you very much. We have one more person on our agenda. Lynette Hayward. Hello.
MS. LYNETTE HAYWARD: My name is Lynette Hayward. I am very nervous. First of all, I am a mother of two and I am on municipal assistance. These are my kids: Joshua, he is going to be five the end of November, and my new baby is two months old. She turned two months old on October 4th.
The reason I am here - Lois was speaking about people getting their cheques cut - I am one of them. Not only me, but also my friend, Valerie Porter, and she has three kids: six, three, and one. That's their ages. My friend, Linda Goodwin, she has three kids, and she got her cheque cut without notice, without investigation. We were all receiving family benefits. We live in different homes, of course. These are just the people that I know of; I am sure there are many more out there.
Right now, I receive from municipal $632.06 a month. My rent is $229 because I live in housing. My heat and lights are about $100 to $125 a month. That's for two children by the way. My baby goes through about $220 worth of just diapers, formula, baby wipes, just basics. That's not including clothes; that's not including bath supplies, shampoos, soaps, Q-Tips, whatever you need for a baby. That's just the basics. We go through about, I would say, $200 worth of groceries a month. That's only $50 a week; that's not much.
My son is underweight. Teresa Godsoe works with him. He is one of the kids that she sees through the Early Intervention Program and she's doing wonderful work with him. Parents Place, they also see Joshua. We go there for their programs. I want to say they're doing wonderful work too. How can a person survive off just so much money? We are literally starving.
Basically, you know, they should investigate. They shouldn't just take people's word. I had three people, that I have peace bonds against, that went in and signed papers stating that my boyfriend lives with me. No, my boyfriend doesn't. I live here in town; he lives in Pubnico. He has his own home, and his job is in Pubnico. He hardly ever sees his daughter. He doesn't live with me. These people said that he does. They signed papers, so the social worker, the caseworker, she never investigated. She never came to my home. She never called - well, I don't have a phone because that's a luxury - they just don't investigate. Basically that's it.
MADAM CHAIR: When was your cheque cut? When did you find out?
MS. HAYWARD: The end of May, I found out. I got the notice in the mail the day I was supposed to receive my cheque.
MADAM CHAIR: And what have you done in the meantime? How do you pay your rent?
MS. HAYWARD: I got a lawyer, not through Legal Aid, because Legal Aid won't touch it. I have a lawyer who's giving me credit right now, that I eventually got to pay back, and I don't know how I am going to pay him back. I seriously don't. He's working on an appeal for me and we haven't heard anything back and that has been since May.
MADAM CHAIR: So you retained a lawyer and you started the appeal process in May?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: In the meantime, how do you pay your rent and buy groceries?
MS. HAYWARD: Municipal. I was on family benefits. I was receiving for one child $628 a month; I have two, a new baby which I find are more expensive because you have to buy the diapers and, you know, they grow out of their clothes so quickly. I mean she has gone from eight pounds to 12 pounds in a matter of two months.
MADAM CHAIR: So family benefits was terminated and you're now on income support.
MS. HAYWARD: Municipal.
MADAM CHAIR: Yes, and has the amount of money you received been reduced in that process?
MS. HAYWARD: Greatly.
MADAM CHAIR: So it has gone from $628 to . . .
MS. HAYWARD: It has gone to $632 a month. It has gone up $4.00, basically, for a new baby. You tell me how I can feed and clothe and buy diapers out of $4.00 a month for a new baby.
MR. MUIR: You had mentioned that the father of one of your children is your boyfriend. Does he provide support?
MS. HAYWARD: Not right now. We're in the process through municipal assistance, right, they want the fathers to pay support which I agree with. We are in the process of going through a court thing. He's still my boyfriend but we're going to take it through the courts to get the legal documents so that we can bring it to the Department of Social Services and say, here is your legal documents because they want everything legal. They don't want just to take somebody's word. They want everything in writing. They want everything through the courts, legal stuff. So that's what we're in the process of doing.
MR. MUIR: So that would be, for example, if he's giving you whatever, providing child support of let's say $100 to $150 a month, Community Services is asking you to document that amount so that you're not really getting $300?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chair, this is what I was alluding to earlier and it is a serious concern that I hear from a number of people. First of all, I guess what you're receiving right now, you call it municipal but it is a new income assistance program. It is the old municipal program is what it is. That is the $632.06 that you're telling us about now?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes, $632.06 a month.
MR. PYE: That is, yes, now. If I can go back to your family benefits, when you were on family benefits, what were you receiving?
MS. HAYWARD: It was $628 for one child. Now I have two children. My baby was born since my cheque got cut.
MR. PYE: Okay, so you're on income assistance. Can I ask you how you make out because if I have got these figures correct, you said your rent was $229?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: Heat and lights at $125?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes, $100 to $125.
MR. PYE: Yes, basic baby needs at $220?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: And groceries at $200 a month, $50 a week?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: I figure, that comes to $874.
MS. HAYWARD: I get $25 a month for my son Joshua in child support from his father, $25 a month, which they deduct from my cheque, plus I get child tax, $153.16.
MR. PYE: Okay, now I understand. Now, did the lawyer tell you how much he was going to charge you for the appeal?
MS. HAYWARD: No.
MR. PYE: You have no advocacy groups in southwestern Nova Scotia that could go on your behalf or help you or assist you with the appeal?
MS. HAYWARD: I don't know of anyone.
MR. PYE: You said you made the appeal back in May?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: You're required to make that appeal within 30 days?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: Have you heard from the appeal adjudicator?
MS. HAYWARD: No. I contact my lawyer at least once a week to find out if he has heard anything. Oh, by the way, my caseworker for family benefits sent me a paper saying that I owe them $2,541.
MR. PYE: So that's overpayment?
MS. HAYWARD: Overpayment, according to them, which they never investigated. They never came and asked me any questions. They never made phone calls, they did not investigate. I asked my caseworker about that, and her response was, well, we don't have to investigate anymore.
MR. PYE: You are going to have an appeal hearing. I want you to know that we have talked about this at the Standing Committee on Community Services, and we were informed that there was a tremendous backlog in appeals. However, the deputy minister said that the department had intended to address this issue and try to speed up the process of appeals. My question to you is, when you go to that appeal hearing - you are paying for the legal advice - is your lawyer going to be present with you?
MS. HAYWARD: Yes.
MR. PYE: Okay. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Aside from additional monies, what other things could the Community Services Department do to help break the cycle? Part of the agenda is to look at ways of helping people get out of the system, so to speak. What can you see as some of the things that are needed to help address the problems that you are facing?
MS. HAYWARD: Help with childcare, definitely. That is a big one with me. I don't really trust babysitters, because I had a babysitter physically abuse my son. He is fearful of certain people. I am not going to allow that, to have somebody come to my home, or him go to somebody else's home. The Boys and Girls Club, he went there and he did wonderful there. He is in a program now at school and he is doing wonderful there. I just don't trust anyone with him, and he doesn't trust people. I would have to get something like the Boys and Girls Club or a subsidized day care to help me out.
I was going to school here. I would have graduated last year. I would have had my academic education, only I miscarried at the time. I phoned up the person here - I won't say any names, but somebody that was in charge - and I asked him, look, I am in the hospital, I am miscarrying, I am missing finals. Can you please give me the finals over again? No, I am sorry. I would have had my education. I would have had my Grade 12. Right now, I am stuck
at a Grade 10 to Grade 11 level. I want to get back into the education system, myself. It is so difficult, transportation wise, childcare. It is just a big problem for everybody.
MR. MUIR: Can I just ask one question? You said that you were cut. What was the cut? Your benefits were cut.
MS. HAYWARD: My family benefits were completely cut. Now I am on municipal.
MR. MUIR: Okay. Now I understand. I was thinking it was a dollar amount, that they had said you were living with your boyfriend and therefore they had reduced it. Okay. I am sorry.
MADAM CHAIR: It turns out to be a reduction, because . . .
MR. MUIR: Yes. Okay. Now I understand.
MR. PYE: Just for clarity, Madam Chair. You have to remember that when a person is on family benefits, the minister has said that no one is denied assistance. What they do is they automatically go on to the income assistance program until such time as the appeal is heard, and then if the appeal is in their favour, it goes back to family benefits.
MR. MUIR: I understand now.
MS. HAYWARD: Can I make one more point? Up here, when I had my baby - like I said, she is only two months old - I couldn't afford to buy a crib for my baby to sleep in. I think a crib is a necessity, you have to have a crib to keep your child safe. I went to the Anti-Poverty Group meeting at the MLA, John Deveau's office here in Yarmouth for the very first time. I am so grateful for those people. They got there, his secretary and the Anti-Poverty Group and the sisters at Tabitha Centre helped me get a crib. I just want to credit them and say thanks to them. It just means so much. It is so hard.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you, Lynette. We know it is very tough to come out in a public forum with perfect strangers and talk about difficulties you are having, but in some ways you know we need to hear these so we keep connected to what people in Nova Scotia are really experiencing and what we need to do in terms of our responsibilities as elected people. I want to thank you for having the courage to come here tonight and talk to us.
We actually do have one more presenter from the Federation of Senior Citizens and Pensioners of Nova Scotia. Heiner Mangels. Good evening.
MR. HEINER MANGELS: I am Heiner Mangels. I am the president of the Seniors Federation. Good evening, Madam Chair and panel. I am glad to be here. It is not many times we have a chance to talk to people who do matter to us and listen to us. Very often we talk and it is against the wind. The lady who was here and talked about seniors said many of the things that I was intending to say and I am very happy that she said what she did.
I have talked to many people, or I should say several people who have been or are now retired nurses who have been so stressed out in their jobs that they are simply tired. Once you have been a nurse and you have been in that job for 15 to 20 years, it is just like something pulls you back. This job, you just need to take care of somebody. Many of these people have gone to open themselves a small home, four, six, eight beds, and they have found it very difficult to get cooperation so that they could make a living. I have known some people who said they were just about to declare bankruptcy because they simply could not get any people in and nobody would help them out getting them there because the rules were you put them in Tidal View, you put them in the Villa.
For the love of me I cannot understand where the thinking comes from that when you can get a person into a home for $1,200 to $1,300 that you as a government are willing to pay over $3,000 to $3,500 for a person. It just does not make sense. We have seen this so often. I just hope there is a way really to get behind this kind of an effort and see that these people are utilized. They are professional people and they do have the best care available or they will give the best care available to these people whom they will take in because that is within them. That is what they want to give. I just hope maybe that you can make this clear to some people.
Another thing that I would like to talk about, especially for old people, is telephone answering services. I do not know if you have ever come across this predicament when you pick up a phone and you dial number one and then you dial number two and then if you give zero or B or C. You know, it is just frustrating to no end. It is no wonder I got high blood pressure and everything else, because my telephone has landed so hard sometimes, it is terrible. I have an awful temper when it comes to that. I really wish there is some way. I know there is plenty of times when people have been told that is something that has to change. I do not think it is just old people but as we get older we get slower in following orders; we get harder of hearing, and it is just getting more difficult to follow those kinds of instructions that are there. After you have done it three or four times, you just don't have the speed to follow up, and you just hang up. Maybe you try again tomorrow, or just forget about it. There are many things like that.
Another problem that has crept up many times that I see now is that we have a lot of widows in houses by themselves. I believe it is time, maybe, that a government can start a program. We have so many useless, simply no-good programs on television, wasting time and money. Put something on for older people, make them aware of the dangers in a house, slippery rugs or furniture in the wrong places. Make them aware that you can maybe get
somebody else in your house with you. Have another friend, have two friends in your house, just for the wintertime, if it is possible. Get together at least for the wintertime, and make it easier on yourself, and make it easier on your budget. You have to bring this across.
I have talked in clubs about this kind of thing. For a lot of people, it is too personal. It needs to get a bigger picture, and maybe if it gets out that way, it may be more acceptable to a lot of people. It is a real concern. We have had several people that have been found, the next morning, dead in their house. Maybe it would not happen if there was somebody else in there, but that is besides the point, we don't know that. Accidents do happen, we all know that also. I just feel that we need to have just a little bit more heart and give a little bit more to some of the older people than what we have been.
When we have been fighting with the governments about pensions and clawbacks and things of that sort, it is just a never-ending fight. I have just come from the national convention in P.E.I. We requested 163 resolutions there, that go through the national and provincial governments. It is not that we are sleeping at the wheel, but it is so hard to get it there. One of our biggest concerns is pharmaceuticals, and see that there are changes with the pharmacies. These international companies, they are killing us; they are killing this country; and they are killing our health care system.
Bill C-91 has been a bane from its very existence, and when it came to the review of this thing, especially for the non-compliance clause in it, we were sold out again by this government. Completely. That added another 30 months to the 20 years already. It is a shameful thing, what this government is doing to us, and especially to the seniors, because your drugs are getting more expensive every year. It is a proven fact. They are talking about a national pharmaceutical plan. How is it going to happen? We are all going to pay for it, if we don't change it first. We have to change it first, and there is no way, we are going to go broke if we don't have a change to it first.
There are many things that we are working on, but it is not that we are succeeding in them all. It is just a very slow way of working at it, and I do feel sorry for a lot of people. I know we would like to have changes faster, and hope to work with it better. There is one thing that has been close to our hearts - and we fought this from the word go - and that was the GST. I sat with our Premier, face to face, in his office and he promised us faithfully, with my wife present, and said, I am going to Ottawa and there is going to be a change before the new election. Well, the election has been but the change has not been. We are still paying the same thing.
We are digging away at this thing but there are too many poor people in Nova Scotia. This has been taken away from the manufacturers - it was their tax - and it has been put on the private citizen. Mostly it has been put on the poor and on the seniors. It was the poor that could least afford it first of all. It is just one thing after another like that.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much. Questions, comments. Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Mr. Mangels, did you say you were President of the Seniors Federation of Nova Scotia?
MR. MANGELS: I am.
MR. PYE: I received a copy of your resolutions, about 160 copies. I was wondering if the other members of the political Parties had received those copies as well?
MR. MANGELS: We sent them to every Party.
MR. PYE: Now, you had indicated that your resolutions have obviously been sent to the government in power. Have any of your resolutions been brought up in the Legislature and/or am I entitled as an MLA to bring forward your resolutions on a resolution day, to put them forward?
MR. MANGELS: I would think so because we hope they will be acted upon and that was why we brought them forward, in the hope that somebody would pick up on us. That is the only way we are going to get anywhere, if we work together, it is like everything else.
MR. PYE: Well, if I could have your permission I would certainly make it my duty to present at least a few of those resolutions?
MR. MANGELS: I would be more than happy if you would do it, thank you very much, I appreciate it.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Ms. Atwell.
MS. ATWELL: I do not have any questions but I would really like to thank you for your presentation.
MR. MANGELS: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Muir.
MR. MUIR: You mentioned the tax. You were talking about the HST, I take it?
MR. MANGELS: Oh yes.
MR. MUIR: That was the one that you had discussed with the Premier and that he was going to do away with. This is supposed to be an apolitical event but during my campaign, for the majority of the seniors with whom I spoke, I would say you certainly had support in the constituency that I represent.
MR. MANGELS: I just wanted to say one thing I forgot to say. Nova Scotia has the largest percentage of senior citizens. Yarmouth County has the largest per cent of those again, they have 15 per cent of senior citizens right now. That number is going to be a lot higher by the year 2003, the figure will be close to 20 per cent.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. Balser.
MR. BALSER: Madam Chair, thank you. You spoke of the high cost of medicines being very problematic for seniors. The change to the $215 Pharmacare fee, what would be a solution to that problem? How could government make it more palatable for seniors or more equitable?
MR. MANGELS: They said that they would try to do away with the $215 fee. The problem is how big is your co-pay. If your co-pay is going to be that much bigger again, you are no further ahead. You are in the same boat and maybe you are going to pay more. It is the small writing that we need to see and right now we have not seen a thing. They said they would have a change for us by this fall or later on but the House is now in session and we have not heard.
MR. BALSER: What would you suggest as a solution?
MR. MANGELS: We would like to see it done away with all together because, like we have said before, seniors have paid taxes all of their lives. This country is what it is because of the seniors. I don't think that they need to scratch us any further. They have clawbacks on our taxes. They have cutbacks on our pensions. I think they are making more than enough. They have $20 billion overpay in the EI fund. They have put the young people against the old people about the pension plan and say the pension fund is not big enough. It is going the same way. It is more than enough there. To put the young against the old on that is a disgrace. If politicians use that, I think it is a lot worse than it should be.
MADAM CHAIR: Mr. [Charles] MacDonald.
MR. CHARLES MACDONALD: I have no questions. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming in.
MR. MANGELS: I didn't want to abuse your panel here. I know in the end I always get out of doing that somehow, but thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIR: No abuse at all; I have to say that Bill No. C-69 has to be one of the biggest irritants for people in my riding. Right now people still talk about what the implication of that legislation is for the cost of drugs and it is such a gift to those transnationals. It is unbelievable and should never have happened.
MR. MANGELS: Yes.
MADAM CHAIR: You're right there. Thank you.
I guess that wraps it up. I want to thank people for coming out tonight and for talking to us from what, in many cases, was the bottom of your hearts. We have listened, I hope, and we will be bringing back the information that we have heard here to the much larger Assembly. I hope we will not disappoint you in our final report.
Thank you very much.
[The committee adjourned at 10:48 p.m.]