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Written by: Karl Andrus



As the world struggles in the midst of the Covid-19 Pandemic, deep structural and economic flaws in how we care for the most oppressed in society are becoming increasing difficult to ignore. For decades, activists living with the effects of these deep systemic issues have rallied, protested, and raised the flag to anyone who would listen. Those with lived experience on Ontario Works (OW), the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), the retired poor on Old age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS), and those living on the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Disability Benefit have long known, even without the stress of a global pandemic, the struggle of living on inadequate income and substandard supports. The Covid-19 pandemic has placed increased pressure on folks already squeezed, neglected and ignored by both the federal and provincial governments.


On March 25th, as the effects of the global pandemic accelerated across the country, the Federal government, facing pressure from the opposition New Democratic Party, announced the introduction of the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) for those who might not be eligible for Employment Insurance and lost employment due to the crisis. It would provide $2,000.00 a month, or $500.00 a week, for workers displaced by the need to self-isolate, physically distance and shrinking employment opportunities. This established a baseline of what a single, able-bodied person in Canada would require to survive during this crisis. That emergency benefit left millions of Canadians still living on monthly fixed incomes that are far less than this already meager baseline.


For comparison to CERB, the OAS+GIS maximum is around $1,514.70, plus another $83.00 monthly. A single person on OW can receive around $733.00 a month, and a couple is looking at around $1,136.00. The ODSP is around $1,151 or approximately $1,971 a couple. Those subsisting on CPP Disability Benefits can expect a maximum of 1,387.66. There may be unique factors that increase these monthly amounts slightly, but none of them approach $2,000.00 a person a month. If you had been working on OW or ODSP beforehand and eligible for CERB, you could apply. But the money given to you by the federal government was clawed back from your OW/ODSP payments. Those on CPP-D and retired folks have no eligibility for CERB. Those people subsisting on such meager fixed incomes are also among those most vulnerable to the effects - physical, mental and economic - of the Covid-19 pandemic.


To date, the response to the pandemic by the Federal and Provincial government has been shameful. The Government seems more willing to give financial support to food banks and emergency service provides than directly into the pockets of those in need. The Ontario Government under Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives have offered a minor accommodation to those on ODSP/OW which are discretionary, at the whim of the client’s workers, and activists are reporting they are unevenly distributed:


“We’ve made additional funding available to help you pay for things related to COVID-19 like cleaning supplies, transportation and clothing. If you are an Ontario Works or ODSP recipient, you can get this additional funding by contacting your local Ontario Works or ODSP office. Funding for COVID-19 related expenses is the same for both programs: up to $100 for single individuals and up to $200 for families.”


The province also put forward a small offer for seniors:

“… receiving monthly Ontario Guaranteed Annual Income System (GAINS) payments, we will be doubling your payment, making it up to $166 per month for individuals and up to $332 per month for couples”.


Those on CPP-D have received no additional funding so far other than the doubling of GST payments issued for all low- and modest-income families in April. Those on OAS/GIC received a onetime payment of $500.00 and those eligible for the GAINS program saw a doubling of support from a paltry $81 a month to $166 per month for individuals. None of these measures bring folks close to the low bar of income replacement set by the CERB program.


The Federal and provincial governments appear to be operating under the tacit belief that people on fixed incomes do not need or require the same levels of support as those displaced from the work force. There is a feeling that the governments in charge believe folks living on the fringes of society are already used to getting by on limited incomes, so limited or no extra financial support is required for them. The fact is, even before this crisis, Canadians living under these systems were already struggling with deep manufactured poverty, unaffordable housing costs and increased food costs. As the pandemic worsens across the country, those living under enforced austerity budgets, struggling to maximize their limited income, could no longer afford even the meager life provided by these poor shaming programs.


The increased costs of the pandemic are being felt across the province and the country. Covid-19 has caused increases in food costs, limits on the dispensing of medication, the inability to shop multiple stores and flyer specials, requirements for delivery, shortages, increase in food bank usage, requirements to use taxis as public transit limits service and space on buses. Those on low and fixed incomes do not have access to the credit that many are turning to in this time of need. Payday loan companies, already used to preying on our most vulnerable, are making off like bandits during this crisis. While banks provide limited relief to credit card interest and deferrals of mortgage payments, the Payday loan bandits are charging 521% or more to desperate folks, trapping them on a treadmill of revolving payments and eating into their already limited finances. All these factors have put addition economic strain on folks on fixed incomes who can least afford it.


Economic pressures are not the only Covid-19 related strains low income residents are experiencing. The need for those most vulnerable to this pandemic to self-isolate, as well as the restrictions on visitations and transportation, has left many folks without vital social and physical interaction. Volunteer and family/friend caregivers provide a great deal of the much-needed care our institutions will not provide. Those stuck at home or in care facilities are cut off from those vital visits to provide everything from mental health support and counseling to day to day requirements for bathing, cleaning meal prep and other essential needs. This critical community care is needed now more than ever and putting an extra strain on our vulnerable populations.


The tools that those of us with internet, smartphones and computers are using to offset the loneliness and other effects of this pandemic are unavailable to many of our lowest income neighbours. Only around 80% of people in Hamilton have the internet, and those in the lowest income brackets are among the majority of folks without internet access. Among those without internet or a computer, vital access through libraries and other institutions has been cut off. At a time when connections to friends, family, community and social services are most needed, folks struggling with fixed low incomes do not have access to the internet and smartphones/pc.


As the pandemic continues, it is incumbent on our leaders at both the Federal and Provincial level to immediately address the needs of our most vulnerable residents. Increases to the CPP-D, OW/ODSP and OAS/GIC programs should at minimum bring monthly payment levels up to match those provided by CERB. That bare minimum of funding increase will save lives, improve the quality of life and provide a clear signal that we as a society care deeply for those often forgotten. If we are truly all in this together, it is incumbent on all of us to address the precarity of our society exposed by this pandemic.


Karl Andrus is a labour organizer and activist in Hamilton

Written by: Megan Linton

COVID-19 has reinforced what many in the disability community have long known; institutionalization did not end in 2008. The role of institutionalization amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has been tragic, resulting in the highest rates of mortality amongst people in custodial institutions. Disabled communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, as a result of decades of budget cuts, neoliberalization efforts, and by the ongoing usage of custodial models of care.

Disabled people, particularly people labeled with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities (IDD) are more likely to be in prisons, long term care facilities, and psychiatric institutions, all facilities where COVID-19 outbreaks have been most lethal. Disabled people labelled with IDD are relegated to these facilities as a result of the failure of the government to properly fund community living, resulting in more people on the waitlist to access group homes than actually in group homes. There have been several outbreaks in group homes and residential care facilities, most fatal of these were the 6 deaths at Participation House.

While the pandemic has changed all of our lives significantly, lives inside custodial institutions and group homes have become increasingly confined. Inside group home and residential facilities, residents are directed to remain in their rooms, which some have reported sharing with more than five people, despite being designed for a single occupant. Both the Federal and Provincial government has set out protocols for COVID-19 in congregate care settings, however, none of the protocols have discussed needs, rights and treatment of residents amidst the pandemic. Additionally, the protocols do not outline increased inspection of residences, which were already experiencing decreased inspections over the past year.

In congregate care settings without protocols in place, facilities are increasingly placing residents in lockdown. Congregate care settings are largely built around residents using common spaces, which allows resident’ bedrooms to be smaller, thus allowing for more residents (thereby, more profit) in one building. Throughout the pandemic, residents are no longer allowed to be in common spaces, relegating them to their rooms, often which have little more than a bed, and window. Residents no longer have access to recreation programming, family visits, or the ability to leave the facility.

The Government of Ontario has recommended the cancellation of all activities within homes, relegating patients to their rooms. In an April directive, they recommend “residents remain in their room. If rooms are shared, residents should keep as far apart as possible from each other (e.g., “head to foot” or “foot to foot” placement of beds)”. Homes are not meant for the containment of residents, and have been critiqued for decades for their reliance on institutional models of care. The pandemic has reinforced the institutional structures of group homes, residential care facilities and long term care.

Residents in long-term care facilities and retirement homes have the most robust protections from abuse. The Residents’ Bill of Rights applies to all municipal, charitable, and for-profit long term care facilities, it guarantees residents 27 rights. These rights are protected, and enforceable. Residents are able to file complaints on infringement of rights, and importantly, are able to take long term care providers to court for breach of contract if they do not comply with the Residents’ Bill of Rights. These rights were created in order to protect patients from abuse, and to guarantee the right to independence in a congregate setting.

However, throughout the pandemic we have seen these rights being eroded institutionally. Residents are repeatedly being neglected, are left without their needs met and access to communication. The harrowing accounts thus far show the need for the government to ensure the provision of rights where possible, and outline what resident rights’ are amidst a pandemic.

Along with the increasingly carceral settings in long term care facilities, group homes and psychiatric institutions are experiencing similar conditions with reduced access to rights. Rights of residents’ in group homes and intensive supportive living are absent from municipal and provincial legislation, leaving them vulnerable to abuses and infringement, and with minimal access to institutional accountability.

While the protection of residents from COVID-19 should remain the top concern, the lack of a strategy to support residents during COVID-19 has reinforced institutional models of care that strip residents of their rights. Institutionalization prevailed past the closure of Huronia, and as long as custodial care is normalized and accepted, pandemics will flourish in these settings. Supporting disabled people during COVID-19 must include advocating for an end to custodial care, from prisons to long term care.

Megan, a white woman with cropped brown hair is staring at the camera. She is wearing a white and beige cloth face mask, a collared white shirt, and a large pearl hair clip.

By: Constanza and Matt (YAC)



Hi!


Are you a young person 25 and under living with a disability? If so, we invite you to keep reading because this post is for you!


If you are a youth living with a disability chances are a lot of your experiences have been anything but typical. And you may or may not identify as having a disability. So first, a note on what disability is.


For reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, societies have gone to great lengths to define and reinforce what “normal” bodies and minds are. Anyone that is different then falls in the “disabled” category. As disability justice organizer Mia Mingus puts it, “people usually think of disability as an individual flaw or problem, rather than as something partly created by the world we live in”. Navigating a disability is not easy but you don’t have to do it alone. There is an armour we sometimes must wear to survive in the “real” world, but that takes a toll. I cannot begin to tell you what a difference it makes when you enter a space where you can take that armour off. Where you are free to be. Free to come as you are. Free to be a full, dynamic, and complex human in an eqully dynamic and complex world.

Here at the YAC we spend a lot (A LOT) of time challenging the ways in which the world disables people. As a social justice organizer, I would lie to you if I said this entirely unique to our group ( there are lots of amazing social movements, groups, and organizations). What I can tell you, is that our group has gone where few have. We have learned to care for one another. We have cultivated connections. We get through hard times together and we celebrate each other. We communicate, learn and grow together. This is the sort of community we have created in DJNO’s Youth Action Council, and we would like to share it with you.


This is why we started our FRIDAY series - Friends Rocking the Intersection of Disability and Youth. Got to love a long acronym you will probably forget. And that is okay! Just remember that every Friday we will be co-creating a safe space with you at 5:00 pm EDT. Our series is intended to be a reflection of our youth collective. Some sessions will be light and fun and others will be deep and heavy. All we ask is that you come with an open heart and mind and be respectful of the space.


So what’s next? Well, while we are still in the apocalypse, all sessions will happen online, which means there will be some logistics to go over. You can find that information in the Q/A section below. This month, we will get things started by holding a screening of Crip Camp in collaboration with MSU Maccess. This will be open to anyone and it’s a great chance to get to know us and this series better as well.


The following Friday we officially start! We have a meet & greet (with a special guest!), games night ( there will be prizes!), and a radical mental health workshop + check in lined up. We will brainstorm future activities with you! By becoming a part of FRIDAY you also have the opportunity to be added to our super awesome and private Group Chat.


We are excited to meet you and connect with you - Friday at Five for our FRIDAY series:










FAQ


Who is this open to?

Youth under 25 who identify as having a disability


What about accessibility needs?

You can let us know when you register or email us and we can set up a time to talk about your accessibility needs by email youthcouncil@djno.ca


Who is creating the programming, coordinating, and facilitating?

Stay tuned for a short blog post series introducing the core FRIDAY team from YAC. Special guests will be introduced before each session.


Where do I find out more/ sign up?

For the movie + discussion event (open to all)



For the FRIDAY series:



What do I need to participate?

You will need a computer, tablet, or smartphone and internet connection. We recommend you download the video conferencing platform Zoom in advance.


Do I have to stay the whole time?

  • Nope! Stay for as long as you want. You can come to one or all of the sessions. It is entirely up to you.


What do we expect from you?

  • Treat others with respect, dignity and kindness.

  • We have no tolerance for acts of discrimination, harassment, or violence.

  • No racism, sexism, transphobia, classism, ableism, or bigotry of any kind.


If I have a question where can I get in touch?



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