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Community Living South Huron in jeopardy

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 Not realizing the repercussions from their actions, the province's plan to eliminate provincially funded workshops where people with intellectual disabilities function on a daily basis, could backfire.

The province plans on closing what they call “sheltered workshops”, stating that thousands of Ontarians with intellectual delays are working for pennies a day. Some think their actions are painting all workshops with the same brush, and an old brush at that.

Community Living Ontario is a non-profit, provincial association started in 1953, which advocates for people who have an intellectual disability to be fully included in all aspects of community life. Community Living Ontario and the local Community Living associations are also part of the Canadian Association for Community Living. They belong to a world-wide advocacy network called Inclusion International.

The Adult Resource Centre (ARC) in Dashwood was organized in 1968. Before that, children and youth of all ages attended Huron Hope School at J.A.D McCurdy in Huron Park. In the 1980s, Bruce Shaw, who is currently the Executive Director of Community Living South Huron was the principal at South Huron District High School. He saw the need to move the age-appropriate children from Huron Hope to the high school with the hope of including them into the lives of students who, for the large measure, had negative, stereotypical images of those with developmental challenges. “I did not delay when I realized the province was moving in this direction,” he told the Lakeshore Advance adding that recently the Agency spent a large portion of a private grant to partner with SHDHS to develop strategies for introducing 18-20 year-old students with intellectual challenges to the working world and independent living. “The point is”, adds Shaw “We have a history of always supporting inclusion and integration of our people into the community. Now we are being attacked for not being inclusive enough.”

Some critics say what happens in these places, known as “sheltered workshops,” amounts to slave labour. Others, families whose adult children work there, call them a blessing.

Shaw explained the demise of Community Living Resource Centres was imminent after an investigation by a Toronto newspaper reached the Minister of Community and Social Services who immediately announced that there would be no new admissions to the workshops followed up by plans to close them forever. The concern from the province is that the funded workshops employ people with intellectual disabilities to do menial tasks for pennies a day and are still not “inclusive”.

Shaw says that ARC began when parents advocated for a facility where their adult children could go for education, recreation and work as well as socializing with other developmentally challenged adults because, they feared, they would not likely be included in society and become part of the community.

In 1987 programs began at ARC, but 10 years later, the Ministry announced that all shelters would be closed by March 31st,1998, for Dashwood at least, but parents, the Board and the community rallied, and the province backed off.

The Adult Resource Centre located in Dashwood operates Monday - Friday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, offering a wide variety of vocational, recreational, leisure and educational programs to adults with a developmental disability. The ARC program works in partnership with the Community Resource Program to ensure each client experiences a wide range of activities. This Agency also offers contract jobs for their clients. The clients can and do handle many different jobs at very competitive rates. Jobs such as envelope stuffing, mass mail outs, production re-work, labeling, packaging, light assembly are just some of the contracts that the clients can do and have done.

Their food services program bakes decorative cakes for that special occasion or prepares a lunch for your next get together. This week, December 18th, the kitchen staff will be preparing lunch for the entire community at $5 a meal.

Their Dashwood Wood Products is a certified manufacturer of wood pallets and crates operating on a Monday - Friday basis. Most of their production is completed by people with a developmental disability. Their clients operate air powered nail guns, saws and other industrial machines. The shop prides itself on an extremely high safety standard as well as a quality product. Clients receive $2 an hour for their work. Shaw says clients are limited in their skills in that, for instance, they are not able to work productively for eight hours a day as might be expected in a typical factory.

All clients receive pensions to live on, and many are fortunate enough to live in group homes. The activities offered at Community Living include recreation, sport, education and countless social events which cost the client $2.50 per day. Some come to Dashwood daily, some less often. Government funding pays for the 7.5 full time staff at ARC. The Agency is responsible for their own busing while the province as the province no longer pays for the purchase of any buses, vans and any vehicle used by the Agency.

We keep people busy 8.5 hours a day. If the building gets closed, as the province is planning, what will the clients do?”

The province has nothing in place for the clients if there is no facility. Shaw suggests, without ARC, practically all the clients will need someone to support each of them to some extent. “Perhaps mom and dad are working all day. To bring in outside support will coat a small fortune over the year,” he says adding, “And then there is the respite for the caregiver aspect, that will be gone or replaced again at a financial cost.” He explains the spot support that may be offered will surely not be enough. “The Ministry and the agencies have a lot more planning to do.”

Closing Community Living resource centres is a knee jerk reaction,” says Shaw, “Without being melodramatic, many of our people will become home-bound or “tossed out onto the streets”. No alternative is being offered at the moment. He likened this situation to the closing of mental health facilities, an issue that has backfired in this province and the rethinking of that decision. He says “We are a community organization dedicated to providing support to people with intellectual challenges though education, advocacy and innovation. Last point: we stress options and choices; don’t ask us to put limits on our support.”

The ban of admitting new clients is immediate; the closing of the facility will take time, but the initial date for complete closure was five years; some have already closed their doors.

There will be more on this issue as the weeks progress.

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