The cuts to supports for people with "developmental disabilities" - what we once called the mentally handicapped - are taking a terrible toll. And worse times are ahead.
According to Community Living B.C., the Crown corporation set up to provide services, the amount of funding per client has fallen every year since it was created six years ago.
In 2006/7, the first full year of operation, funding provided an average $51,154 per client. This year, funding will be $45,306. By 2013, according to the government projections, it will be cut to $41,225 per client.
If you factor in inflation, by 2013 the funding available for each client will be 30 per cent less than it was in 2006. (There is a small amount of additional money for a personalized supports initiative; it doesn't change the reality of the annual cuts.)
The result is damaging. People who have lived in group homes for years, happily and in a family-like setting, are being forced out as homes are closed to save money.
People who once had full lives - supported in jobs and social activities - are now spending all day alone. The supports that involved them in the community, helped them keep jobs and gave them rich lives have been pulled away.
Waiting lists for services are growing and, in many cases, services are just denied. No money, says CLBC.
CLBC says several factors, all predictable, are pushing up demand for services.
The corporation takes responsibility for supports when people turn 19. CLBC says parents, after seeing their children assisted through the school years, expect quality services to continue.
Too often, they don't. Teens who have been thriving with effective supports face disaster when they become adults.
Like Jonathan Martin of Burnaby. He has Down syndrome and autism. He's been supported as a youth and CLBC's own report says he needs continued support and access to day programs next month when he leaves high school. "There is a grave concern that Jonathan's independence and acquired skill would quickly decline after he finishes school and if day program is not available," the agency's report says, according to the Burnaby NewsLeader. "Constant supervision is required for huge safety concerns."
But CLBC says it has no money. Jonathan will go on a wait list, with no real chance of getting support.
At the other end of the age spectrum, CLBC reports that people with developmental disabilities are living longer and needing more support as they age.
At the same time, many aging family caregivers, usually parents, can no longer provide as much support and are turning to CLBC.
They are finding the support isn't there.
That is particularly cruel. All parents worry about their children. But most enter old age knowing that their sons and daughters are launched.
Imagine the anguish in fearing that your death or incapacity will leave your developmentally disabled adult child at risk of exploitation or neglect. Knowing that the efforts you made to help ensure a safe, productive, satisfying life could end in tragedy.
The B.C. Association for Community Living has supported CLBC since its creation and continues to applaud the efforts to provide individualized supports.
But executive director Faith Bodnar says underfunding has reached a critical point. "Insufficient funding to CLBC has meant reacting to crisis only and the real danger of relegating people to lives of isolation and subsistence as their supports and services are cut," she wrote this month. "For people with developmental disabilities and their families it has created uncertainty, desperation, vulnerability and real suffering as they experience cuts to services or are placed on waitlists without hope."
There are pragmatic reasons for providing these services.
But this is also a moral issue. These are vulnerable people who, with help, can live rich, satisfying lives. They have the right to that opportunity. We have the collective ability to give them the chance.
But the government, on our behalf, has decided that would cost too much.
Footnote: CLBC notes that part of the pressure from services comes from the province's "five great goals," set by the government in 2005. The third goal called for B.C. to "build the best system of supports fpr persons with disabilities, those with special needs, children at risk and seniors." It turns out families believed the government was serious.