Funding reinstated for jobs program

But only for three more months, for now

The supported work program at the Ridge Meadows Recycling Depot has three more months before 29 mentally challenged people who work there have to find “real work for real pay.”

The program, which has been around for about two decades, was supposed to end in September, but will continue to Jan. 1, following a firestorm of criticism from parents and Maple Ridge council directed at the ministry and Community Living B.C. for a new policy in which the developmentally disabled are found jobs in the private sector.

That’s “unacceptable,” and “not in keeping with the premier’s decision of families first and the creation of jobs,” council said in a letter to Social Development Minister Harry Bloy and local MLAs.

It’s one of the saddest things he’s seen one of the worst moves made by senior governments,” added Coun. Al Hogarth.

“From my perspective, I hope we can go to the mat on this one,” Hogarth said.

He wants someone from Community Living to visit the recycling depot.

Ridge Meadows Recycling Society executive-director Kim Day told council Monday that Community Living B.C. has “completely withdrawn the funding for this program.”

But a day later, she was told the contract will be extended until Jan. 1.

“We’re still unhappy – but we’re somewhat optimistic.”

The three-month transition time will allow the recycling society a chance to work with Community Living B.C. “to come up with something that works for everyone.”

Currently, Community Living pays the recycling society $270,000 a year for the supported work program, which allows 29 developmentally disabled people to work part-time at the depot for minimum wage. The contract also funds three support workers.

“To say that working at the recycling depot is not real work, I just think is insulting.

“Every scrap of work done there is work that needs to be done,” added Coun. Linda King.

She also wants to find out what will happen to the money, if the program is cancelled.

Coun. Craig Speirs wondered if it was the start of a trend as the government tries to fix its financial problems after the defeat of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Maple Ridge residents love the program because it makes them feel good when they go to the recycling depot and see people with disabilities included, he said.

Opposition MLA Michael Sather learned of the change a few days ago. “I’m shocked. I’m stunned. I can’t believe they’re actually doing this. I just don’t know where the premier and minister are at.”

He said he’s getting lots of reaction from the families of those affected.

Maple Ridge-Mission Liberal MLA  Marc Dalton said he talked to the minister Monday and will keep working to maintain the program and is encouraged that it’s been extended.

“It’s been a program that’s been going for a long time. I’m definitely for it.”

Day said that Community Living B.C. instead wants to hire one person who will help the 29 workers find jobs in the private sector.

That may be tough.

“I think it will be a big challenge to do that. It’s a difficult labour market for everyone right now.”

Berni De Amaral is one of the three support workers at the recycling depot who could lose her job in January, if the supportive work program eventually is scrapped.

She’s been at the depot almost 10 years, bridging the gap between those with disabilities and the rest of the crew at the depot and said people were upset when they heard about the change.

“It was very emotional that it was cut, very emotional.”

She disagrees with Community Living B.C.’s claim that a supportive work program is an outdated model of helping the disabled.

“This is work and it has a purpose. They’re part of the community. It’s a job. They’re working.”

While the recycling depot can survive the program’s cancellation, the change will also be felt at Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services, where the position of the volunteer support coordinator was also to be cut this fall, saving Community Living B.C. about $61,000 in funding for that program.

Gertie Goudswaard is the volunteer coordinator and solves problems and works out schedules for 28 developmentally disabled clients who provide about 5,500 volunteer hours yearly at 14 non-profit agencies, such as Friends in Need Food Bank, the SPCA and Meals on Wheels.

Without help in monitoring with constant issues, only about four of the volunteers will be able to keep their positions, because the community groups lack the resources to deal with the disabled.

That could mean more money spent providing care in other ways as the clients lose social contact, jobs skills and integration with the community.

“This is actually a job to them,” said Christy Rogge, program director at Community Services.