Disabled adults and families devastated by province's proposed group home closures

Rory Elgert photo courtesy of Cheryl Bucar

Lynette Pollard-Elgert remembers the shock she received four weeks ago when she was told that her developmentally disabled daughter, Rory, would soon have to find a new home. The group home in Richmond where Rory had lived for the last 20 years was reportedly going to be shut down due to funding cuts.

"I was shocked. I was speechless," Pollard-Elgert said.

Rory, 41, has an IQ of around 70, the mental capacity of a four-year-old. She lives with three other roommates with developmental disabilities in a group home run by Community Living BC on Williams Road, with on-site staff who provide daily care.

Since the announcement, Pollard-Elgert and her partner, Cheryl Bucar, have joined other advocacy groups to keep open a housing option which they see as being the most suitable home for Rory.

"My daughter and the other residents are freaking out," said Pollard-Egert. "They don't want to move."

Group home closures

There are over 700 group homes for developmentally disabled adults in B.C. run by Community Living B.C., which then-Children and Families Minister Christy Clark helped to create in 2005. In the past year, 55 group homes have been shut down, with more at risk of closure. Adults live in small groups in a home which provides 24-hour staff support in the facility.

Parents and relatives of developmentally disabled adults in group homes say that Community Living B.C. is closing the homes and moving the care to less costly, non-unionized arrangements, such as home-sharing with a caregiver.  
Polllard-Elgert and Bucar argue that their daughter would lose more than just a place to live if CLBC were to shut down the Williams Road Group Home. She said that Rory's roommates have become like "siblings", having lived together for over a decade. "Rory would lose family, her staff who know her so well, her beautiful home and its garden plots ... she loses her identity," Pollard-Elgert said. 
"The group home helps her feel normalized, because her roommates are similarly disabled," Bucar added.
"Change is very difficult for her, because she has fewer coping skills than most people." 


And where will Rory go if her Williams Road home is closed? 

According to Pollard-Elgert, Community Living B.C. suggested that she be taken into a "shared home". Although there are several forms of shared home living, the common practice for someone at Rory's level is for a developmentally disabled adult to be taken in by a foster home and cared for by a family.

It is believed to be a less costly method of care. According to then-Housing Minister Rich Coleman, group homes cost $100,000 per client to operate per year, whereas shared housing arrangements cost around $40,000, which works well for some disabled adults. 

It's an option that Pollard-Elgert is not willing to consider.

"Rory was in a home share in Alberta before. She lost 20 pounds and had severe depression," she recalled. "(The foster family) was a single mom and her daughter. She was treated badly. To tell you the truth, I think they just brought Rory in to make a little extra money."

At 65, Pollard-Elgert is not in a condition to be taking on her adult daughter in the event of a home closure. She expressed frustration that CLBC had announced the decision to close the group home "like a fait accompli," and perceives the government's lack of response to the issue as a form of "prejudice" against her daughter's disabilities. 

"Our most vulnerable people are being treated like throwaways," she said. "Rory is very involved in the community, she does volunteer work, she is a special Olympian and has won many medals -- all of the residents do something. It's unfair."

Matching needs with services

According to CLBC, however, moving adults to the group home closures is about offering a different style of living for the residents.

Paul Sibley, director of regional operations for Vancouver Coastal and Vancouver North, denied that the group home closures were a done deal, saying that there was a misunderstanding between CLBC and the parents.

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