Up to 70 per cent of social assistance recipients are considered disabled in some way. Being disabled could mean having a learning disability, a mental health diagnosis, or a physical disability. Many of them live in poverty on yearly incomes of $12,000 or less.
This is an issue the government must consider when looking at, or speaking to, issues of poverty. Simply put, there are too many obstacles and barriers that limit people in their efforts to remove themselves from relying on government support.
As I reviewed in part II of this series, I know people with work-limiting disabilities who tried accessing Halifax and Dartmouth social clubs, and got turned down because they did not fit their criteria of ‘mental health consumer.’ I have had the opportunity to tour these places, and I was impressed with what I saw. At the same time, I wished that persons with other types of disabilities could access these social clubs.
There exist programs for persons with other disabilities, but their main focus is on training and employment; they do not include social inclusion. There are persons with other types of disabilities who need those same programs and services, but they are currently not provided in the HRM.
I have devised my dream idea of a program funded by the Department of Community Services. It would be formatted as a non-profit drop-in centre that provides employment support services as well as cures for social isolation for low-income persons with all types of disabilities.
The proposed drop-in centre would be a positive place, which would make persons with all types of disabilities feel happy, comfortable, and help them feel like they are active in the community. The clients being able to access a range of different programs and services at this one-stop drop-in centre will make this possible. The areas of employment, work, self-improvement and social activities would all be touched on.
The drop-in centre would focus on providing social opportunities to keep low-income persons with disabilities from being socially isolated. It would also frame a structure for its clients’ days, to help them set work-related and personal goals.
I would also like free tea, coffee and lunch to be offered.
The drop-in centre would have to be set up in a central location with access to major Metro Transit bus routes, and be open Monday to Friday.
The reason for offering all the different services and programs is because each client’s goals for why they access this centre could be different. Some may want to achieve a specific goal by coming to the centre, while other clients may want to use it for a place to socialize.
When any individual approaches the government for assistance, we should be sitting down with them and building a relationship with that person. Then, a plan can be put together for that individual and we can provide them with the tools they need to move forward in a progressive way that sees them no longer relying on the system in a short period of time.
I have always said that at birth we are told to dream that we can grow up to become anything we put our minds to. Sometimes, somewhere along the way we get lost in our day-to-day struggles and we forget that dream and we are told that no you can't or you never will be. Sadly, today we see individuals who are sleepwalking through life, and instead of helping them wake up to their potential and giving them support we criticize them and continue to crush any dreams or hope they may have.
If we had more opportunities for people who are living in poverty to get out in the community and set goals for themselves, then we would not have so many people living in poverty, socially isolated. A lot of these people who are on income assistance are still young, and if they (especially those who are able to work) stay on the system, then they are going to miss out on a lot of opportunity in their lifetime. We need to improve upon the existing programs — and add more programs — to help these individuals.