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

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"Unionized group homes cost more, as there are benefits for the staff," Cavalluzzo said. "But the hours and standards for private workers are very loose." According to the CLBC's 2010/2011 annual report, the Municipal Pension Plan to unionized employees was highlighted as a primary cost for exceeeding the budget. 

Cavalluzzo explained that his union went on strike in 1999 in order to get rid of 24-hour shifts that were normalized among caregivers working with in group homes. 

"Back then, it was normal to work 96 hours a week, and you would be paid only $10/hr for 12 hours per day, and not paid any hours that went over that." He said that today, a typical caregiver with five years experience earns around $17 an hour for working with developmentally disabled adults.

While such practices have been largely phased out in the public sector, Cavalluzzo said that overwork and high staff turnover due to low pay is still a problem in non-unionized environments. 

CLBC, however, denied that it was targeting unionized group homes, and reiterated that cost was not an issue.

"If we got an increase in our budget, say we got a 10 per cent increase, we would still be doing what we're doing," said Sibley. "This is all about matching up the needs of services in ways that people need them. We would still be reallocating funds because we wouldn't support people in ways they don't need." 

Moms on the Move say closures come at great human cost

Dawn Steele, a member of BC CLAG and representative of Moms on the Move, an organization of mothers of children with special needs, worries about the "human cost" that will accompany the closure of group homes in the province.

"It comes with a huge human cost," she said. "It will work in the short term, but there is going to be outcry over the inhumanity of this approach."

She is concerned at the lack of oversight or representation for the disabled adults who are moved out of their homes. 

"(Some adults) have no one to speak up for them. They were abandoned by their families decades ago," she said. "We are adamant about an independent representative for adult services to look into cases where there is abuse or neglect." 

She said that CLBC had intimidated caregivers and families against speaking out about their children being moved out of their homes.

"We had people telling us stories but not going public, because they feared that if they went against government, they would be punished," she said.

"They are told, 'if you make a fuss about it, we can make sure to put you on a waiting list where you get nothing. You need to put up with what you get.'"

In cases where parents do not wish for their adult child to be moved out of a group home, one option seems to be for the parent to take on the responsibility of caregiving. However, not all parents are able to provide the level of care needed for their child.

"Some of the parents are in their 80s or 90s and need care themselves," said Steele. "People have to give up their jobs (to become a caregiver). It costs society more in the long run, parents staying home instead of contributing to society. That's less taxes for the government." 

For Pollard-Elgert, the proposed closure of her daughter's group home is part of a larger trend of reduced government support for people with disabilities.

"We help people dealing with loss -- and we see many people with a mental challenge for free," she said, speaking of her Living Through Loss Counseling Society of B.C. office. "We used to have a contract with the government, and they would pay us to see them. But they withdrew the contract recently, so now we see them for free because we can't turn them away and no one else seems to want to see them."

"If there's any way parents can fund raise and make up for the costs, then we want to be involved," Bucar said. "We want Rory to stay in her home. The staff are well-trained, and it's cost effective. She's never been happier with where she is."

Bucar and Pollard-Elgert have consulted different MLAs and emailed Premier Christy Clark about the group home closing.

They have yet to receive a response from the Premier's office.

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