Who Is Providing For The Providers?


Home share providers like Selena Martin feel ignored and left behind


By Michael Ainsworth

BC Disability


Home share providers provide housing and assistance to adults with developmental disabilities, but many are feeling overwhelmed and wondering who is there to support them.


Janice Schulz is left worrying about how she’s going to make it through the week.

From her home in Vernon, she spends nearly 24-hours a day, 7-days a week as a home provider and caregiver.


When the provincial government recently announced a $175 monthly increase to social assistance rates, home share providers like Janice, who provide housing and support to adults with developmental disabilities, were not included in the increase.


At the current rates, home share providers contracted under Community Living BC— a provincial crown corporation that funds supports and services to adults with developmental disabilities—receive $716 a month to be split between room and board for each person under their care.


While rent alone averages double this amount across the province, the money Janice receives is expected to cover not only housing, but also food and utilities, such as heat, hydro, cable, internet, and groceries.

Janice Schulz says it's become a struggle to feed the persons in her care


The result is that Janice and many other home share providers are left feeling overstretched and overwhelmed by financial burdens which they don’t have the resources to cover.


“A shopping cart that used to cost me around $400 is now costing me around $600”, says Schulz, who has 2 adult men in her care.


“I spend between $1800 and $2000 a month on groceries, so the extra is coming out of my income to make sure my guys are fed in a way that keeps them healthy.”


“The $716 I receive for each one is supposed to be for room and board. That means that $358 for each is the allotment for food. There is a huge difference between what is received and what is paid out.”


The payment CLBC home share providers receive for shelter and support has been frozen for almost 15 years, after having already been dropped in the mid-2000s. In February 2006, they received an average of $911 in shelter and support, only for this to be cut to the current rate of $716.


But to say the rate has stayed at $716 is misleading , because home share providers actually have fewer financial resources to draw upon due to the inflation and rising living costs—costs which have grown substantially over the last year.


PANDEMIC PROBLEMS


The pandemic hit Nancy Jackson especially hard. Day programs for the 2 adults in her care, which once offered her opportunities for respite and recharge, have closed.


The 2 men, who are brothers, now require virtually round-the-clock support at her Cariboo home, a responsibility which falls to her as the home share provider.


“The burnout is real.”


“Since the beginning we have been home 24-7, and I get no breaks. There have also been worsened behaviours due to loss of regular life routines and schedules.”


Despite rising costs and longer care hours, supplemental pandemic funding for home share providers was cut off back in August, after just 5 months. Home share providers have thus been forced to make up the difference by reaching into their own pockets, which are thinning daily.


“The persons I support now spend more time at home due to the loss of day programs, so food and hydro and many of the monthly bills have really skyrocketed, and caregivers have had to pay for the extra cost out of their income.”

Nancy Jackson says that the pandemic has created extra costs and demands


Although she’s uncertain of when the pandemic will end, Nancy says she is trying to stay strong, reassure the brothers, and get them through it the best she can with what little she has. Their father Durk says he feels blessed by all the love, hard work, and patience she puts into caring for them.


As she continues to provide housing and support, one of the things that would help her most is to at least have the government listen and acknowledge the issue.


“Understanding. That would sure be a start.”

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?


For Selena Martin of the BC Home Share Providers Association, the answer to the question above is clear.


“We should be paid the same as a family care home funded through health.”


Today, home share providers contracted through the Ministry of Health, rather than CLBC, receive $1204 a month in shelter and support payments for each person in their care, nearly $500 more than home share providers like Janice, Nancy, and Selena get through CLBC.


Unable to see a justifiable reason for this disparity or the lack of increase over the past decade, Selena has been active in reaching out to the government and the current Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, Nicholas Simons, but says the responses she has gotten dodge the issue and show little acknowledgment of her call for action.

Selena Martin emphasizes that home share clients are put at risk by current policy


As much as anything, she notes, the well-being of the people cared for by home share providers is at stake.


“There has been concern about the financial security of the supported person, and this is very important, but the financial security of the caregivers is just as important.”


“As long as this is not addressed the people living in home shares are at an increasing risk of losing their homes and support.”


Selena and other home share providers are quick to suggest that the impact of this would go beyond each household.


They argue that home share arrangements save the government money when compared with other housing options for adults with developmental disabilities who need support, and that if home share providers can no longer afford to continue then it would be detrimental to all involved.


Ultimately, the message she wants the provincial government to hear is clear:


“Please do what you promised to do when running for power and support all workers in BC. “


AVOIDING A COLLAPSE


If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it’s that existing systemic gaps and the need to close them have been highlighted.


While much of the focus has been on vulnerable persons who receive services, often overlooked are the providers themselves. They are the foundation on which high-quality public services are built, and without a sturdy base the rest will crumble, with a mess the government must clean up.


When the capacity of home share providers to carry out their job is at stake, so is the well-being of thousands of British Columbians with developmental disabilities who require their support, and so is the broader system.


With this in mind, and to ensure that all BC workers really aren’t left behind during the pandemic or beyond, it’s high time that Selena, Janice, Nancy, and home share providers throughout the province get the extra support they need.