Almost 50 concerned community members joined the Niagara District Council of Women at the St. Catharines Centennial Library the evening of February 14th for a Public Forum on the Protection of Vulnerable Adults. It was heartwarming to see so many at the Forum on Valentine’ s Day and no doubt many hearts were touched by what they heard from our guest speakers.
Niagara District Council of Women Board Member, Ann Porter Bonilla, welcomed everyone to our forum and introduced the speakers.
Our guest speakers were Cindy Forster, MPP for Welland and Neal Schoen, a paralegal with Justice Niagara.
MPP Cindy Forster told us about her proposed Bill 135, the Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Act. This Bill would put in place licensing rules for privately operated Supportive Living Accommodations, as well as increased protections to prevent mistreatment of vulnerable high-risk adults and seniors living in this type of housing. This bill would require housing providers to be provincially licensed in order to collect Ontario Disability Support Program cheques and other types of support payments on behalf of residents.
Ms. Forster explained why this piece of legislation is so important. “The lack of regulation and oversight of these services have, in some cases, exposed tenants to substandard living conditions resulting in physical harm and, tragically, even death. In 2014, despite numerous charges and warnings from municipal fire officials, a 72-year-old man died after a SLA home caught fire in London, Ontario.”
Neal Schoen of Justice Niagara invited a former client from a supportive living home to our forum. With Schoen’s gentle coaxing, she provided first-hand information about her experiences living in two very different homes – one good and one bad. Her story was heartbreaking as she compared the care, quantity and quality of food at two homes. She ended her talk in tears, thinking about those she had left behind at the bad home. Mr. Schoen told us about one home where volunteers from two churches regularly bring food, toilet paper and other necessities for the residents. He said that 45 municipalities across the province have passed motions calling on the province to create provincially enforced standards.
These types of lodgings provide low-rent accommodation and often provide additional care services for high-need adults with low income, disability, physical and mental health issues, and addictions who may not necessarily qualify for long-term care. Seniors also find themselves in these types of lodgings when there are no other options available. Many of the residents should be in group homes but there is no place for them to go.
“I’ve been hearing complaints about some SLAs from support workers, tenants and families,” Forster said. “Too many vulnerable adults who are under the care of these private operators don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves. In some cases, the operator provides horrific conditions and substandard care. We simply have to stop this from happening to anyone.” She has heard many stories and reports about poor living conditions, lack of food, bedbugs and even lack of toilet paper. There have also been reports of employees at some homes working 14-hour shifts and being paid cash at below minimum wage with no deductions and therefore no EI or CPP contributions.
After a question and answer period and much discussion with those in attendance, the speakers sent out an Action Call – encouraging us to talk to our representatives and politicians at the provincial, regional and municipal levels about these lodgings that are home to people who cannot advocate for themselves.
NDCW Board member, Susan Pruyn, thanked Cindy and Neal for their very informative talks and for all the advocacy that they have done and continue to do.