Re: St. Stephen’s Community House:
“Our Member Advocacy Committee (MAC) recently conducted a survey about the proposed Ontario Government changes to ODSP. Reaching out to 86 people on social assistance, The survey found that respondents worry that people denied disability will “fall through the cracks” and “cost the system more” due to using more costly emergency services such as police, ambulance, hospitals, shelters and prisons. Many people feared that the changes would lead to more depression and suicides, and an increase in crime.”
You can read the survey here.
You can also read a story in the Toronto Star about the survey.
Click here to find out more: https://sschto.ca/About-Us/Social-Action/Recent-Social-Action
‘How will they eat?’ Alarm raised over revamp of Ontario’s welfare program for disabled
May 11, 2019
Homelessness, hospital, jail — and for some troubled souls — suicide. Those are the bleak outcomes people on social assistance fear as the provincial government plans to change Ontario’s welfare program for the disabled.
“I worry about people like me who become ill and won’t qualify under the new rules,” says Jordan Bond-Gorr, 38, who has HIV. “How will they eat? Pay rent? Heal?”
Jordan Bond-Gorr, who is on ODSP due to HIV and mental health problems, is worried that people with episodic illnesses like his won’t quality for support under a revamp of rules under consideration by the provincial government. (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)
The former financial services worker is one of 86 Torontonians on social assistance surveyed about the Ford government’s plan to narrow the definition of disability for new applicants to the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
“The amount of fear and anxiety around this is very real,” says Bond-Gorr, who spiralled into substance abuse and mental health problems about six years ago after his HIV diagnosis.
He and others are worried the change will exclude people newly diagnosed with so-called “episodic” disabilities such as mental illness, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, HIV, and some cancers — and force them to rely on Ontario Works (OW).
ODSP, which provides up to $1,169 a month, is still meagre income support for anyone living with a disability or illness that prevents them from working full time, Bond-Gorr says. But it is better than OW, which pays just $733 a month and is geared to those without disabilities and expected to work, he adds.
The increased income and medical support available through ODSP helped Bond-Gorr “take care of some serious mental health and physical health problems I was having. It helped me stabilize my life so that I was able to return to work part time and cover the cost of my medication.”
It also gave him access to supportive housing for people with a history of substance abuse.
“Without ODSP, many people will end up in hospital and become homeless,” he predicts.
At least one-third of the 375,000 people currently receiving ODSP suffer from episodic disabilities that make maintaining employment a challenge.
The survey was conducted at five Toronto drop-ins in April and May by people on social assistance affiliated with St. Stephen’s Community House, a downtown neighbourhood centre that serves low-income residents.
About 80 per cent of respondents were receiving ODSP while the rest were on OW. More than half were between the ages of 46 and 65 and the average length of time respondents had been on social assistance was almost nine years. About 77 per cent said they had mental health issues.
“The changes have generated a great deal of anxiety in the community, particularly among those living with invisible disabilities,” says St. Stephen’s executive director Bill Sinclair. “We will be sending the survey to the minister and requesting that she meet with our peer leaders to hear directly from them.”
Lisa MacLeod, minister of children, community and social services, whose ministry recently concluded stakeholder consultations on the move, “needs to hear from the people who will be affected the most,” he says.
Changes to ODSP are part of sweeping “reforms” announced by MacLeod last fall aimed at moving people on social assistance off government support and into jobs.
She said the current rule-bound system, which serves almost a million people and costs $10 billion a year, is confusing and time-consuming for both recipients and caseworkers — and is ultimately unsustainable.
At the time, MacLeod said the new definition of disability — designed to align more closely with definitions used in federal income-support programs — would apply only to new applicants and that those currently receiving ODSP would not have to requalify.
MacLeod also told reporters the medical review system used to periodically verify eligibility would also be grandfathered for current recipients. However, ministry staff have refused to confirm that, advocates say.
New legislation is expected to be introduced as early as next fall.
Survey respondent Anandi Deonarine, 34, has suffered chronic pain since 2016 when she fell off a roof and broke her back in three places along with her pelvis and tail bone. She lost her housing and developed serious mental health problems when her ODSP application was rejected.
But since her application was approved last spring — after multiple appeals — Deonarine has moved into her own apartment, her mental health has improved, and she is beginning to work part time as a peer support worker.
“I am someone who has worked my whole life,” she says. “I want to work (full time). But how are you supposed to get back on your feet when you can’t afford housing or transportation to get to your doctor?”
Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s minister of children, community and social services, announced sweeping reforms last fall aimed at moving people on social assistance off government support and into jobs. (THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)
Deonarine’s concerns were mirrored by other survey respondents.
“It is a bad idea. People will steal,” one wrote.
“This is death by a thousand cuts,” said another. “People will start living more on the streets. We will see more tents this year versus last year.”
Several respondents worried that people would even try to go to jail where they would get at least a bed and a meal, or “three hots and a cot.”
They predicted overdoses on street drugs, death from cancer or other illnesses and an “increase in suicide” due to being unable to survive on OW.
To qualify for federal CPP disability benefits, a person’s disability must be “severe” and “prolonged,” two terms that sparked a lot of discussion during provincial consultations, say several people who attended the sessions.
But defining “severe” without any context is difficult, says Wendy Porch, executive director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, a non-profit organization that supports people with physical disabilities.
For example, a person who uses a wheelchair, has an attendant, and perhaps some computer technology, is likely able to work, as long as they have access to reliable transportation, she says.
“Meanwhile, someone living with bipolar disorder who doesn’t have any people around them … and looks like they are (able) to work, actually experiences numerous difficulties related to the unpredictability of their illness,” Porch says.
“On the surface, the person who uses the wheelchair might look like they have more severe disability,” she says. “But in the context of how we think about people with disability and our expectations around work, the person with the mental health condition will have a harder time sustaining employment.”
Tammy Yates, executive director of Realize, a national non-profit that supports people with HIV and other episodic disabilities, says it is unfortunate Ontario is considering a more narrow definition of disability at a time when Ottawa is broadening its understanding of the issue to coincide with proposed new federal accessibility legislation.
“What we are experiencing in Ontario is almost a reversal of all of the progress we seem to be making in Ottawa,” says Yates. “Across the province, various groups and organizations are really alarmed about the potential for disqualification and slippage with regard to eligibility.”
Without access to more generous ODSP benefits and supports, people with episodic disabilities will be forced to rely on more costly health and social services, she adds.
Meanwhile, advocates are gearing up for the inevitable legal appeals, says Dianne Wintermute, a staff lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre, a legal aid clinic that specializes in disability rights law.
“We don’t know what the changes will be,” she says. “But anything that limits access for people with disabilities will move them into deeper poverty.”
As one survey respondent wrote: “People will suffer, and they’ll die. End of story.”