March 11, 2014

Dwayne's home fire raises huge questions

By Corinne Benson,
Peoples Voice newspaper

On February 12, there was a fire at Dwayne's Home, a hotel in Edmonton that has been converted into a transitional housing facility for 130 people, who are probably all on AISH, Alberta's "assured income for the severely handicapped" program.

These individuals are in the category of homeless and considered hard to house. I know one of them because the community of the disabled are highly ghettoized, and my daughter, also disabled, is friends with her. As I was listening to the radio, my sobbing was stilled when it was announced that all 130 had escaped the fire, and only one had been taken to the hospital.

The people involved were displaced for two and a half days, and most were returned to their units since the fire involved the top corner of the hotel. Forty firefighters and fourteen pieces of equipment and vehicles were involved with extinguishing the fire. The front page of the Edmonton Sun showed a major blaze.

The first question that outraged me was why so many high‑needs disabled people were being housed under such concentrated conditions. We had never been allowed to visit. It seemed to me that it didn't take a lot of imagination to conclude that this might be a recipe for disaster. The newspapers said this was a third fire at Dwayne's Home. People to whom I spoke said the first two fires were waste basket fires.

When I speak for my daughter's friend I am speaking for someone whose ability to speak for herself is not the best. She has fetal alcohol syndrome, developmental delay, and schizophrenia. Last summer she attended a demonstration to protest the cutting of funding by the provincial government to PDD, Persons with Developmental Delay.

Since the cutting of this budget her life has spiralled severely downward. She was cut her staffing for the weekend although her weekday staffing remained the same. Her fetal alcohol syndrome makes social decisions difficult. She is easily led and since many disabled people are comorbid with  a lot of drug and alcohol involvement, combined with the fact that much of the disabled community live and associate in a ghetto, she is frequently making poor decisions led by the men she associates with. Since the loss of her PDD weekend staff, she has become evicted from her apartment. While in Dwayne's Home she was not able to make the decision to not accept a ride with a stranger on a bitterly cold night, and from what she could tell me, was raped. Now she was temporarily displaced because of this fire.

From the two days that I housed her I can tell she is extremely disabled and needs every dollar she was getting, as do all the staff and administration who deal with her. There is no excuse for her or anyone like her having their funding cut.

Being of Aboriginal background, the source of her disability has the potential to be traced to Canada's residential school policy, but I will never know that with any certainty. But I do know that disability costs big time, and if we created this problem we should not shirk our responsibility.

The other question that looms so large is why we ask the budget to be balanced on the back of people so disabled, while those who can pay don't. Why are the oil royalties so low and the defenceless asked to pay?

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