People with intellectual disabilities face wait lists, inadequate housing options, and regulatory concerns across Canada. Advocates hesitate to point to any one province as a leader in this area. Still, some are showing progress.
All provinces have, on paper, committed to community-based living supports, and the Canadian Association for Community Living reports that since 1986, 90 per cent of Canada’s large institutions have closed.
British Columbia is now the “poster province” for closing institutions, and Newfoundland and Labrador — the first province to create a full policy of deinstitutionalization in 1982 — and Ontario aren’t far behind: all large institutions in both provinces were closed by 2009.
In February 2012, the Saskatchewan government began its deinstitutionalization process by engaging families, service providers, community groups and other stakeholders in the process. In April, 2013, it announced it had cleared its waiting lists, with more than 400 people who had been on it now provided with services.
In March, the Alberta government announced the Michener Centre in Red Deer would be closing both residential buildings at the institutional care facility and moving their 125 residents into community homes. This announcement follows two other closures and the transition into community homes for people once housed at Alberta’s Youngston Home (closed in 2011) and the Eric Cormack Centre in Edmonton (2012). The Alberta Services for Persons with Disabilities department hopes to have all residents of the facility moved by the spring of 2014.
In Alberta, regional boards add another layer of community oversight independent of the government.
As in Nova Scotia, though, deinstitutionalization has come hand in hand with capacity crises in some areas. In Ontario, approximately 23,000 people are on wait lists, with more than 12,000 people waiting for support to live in an appropriate home setting. Ottawa alone has 500 people on its wait list. One bright light, in April 2013, Saskatchewan said it had completely eliminated its wait lists.
In lieu or in conjunction with supporting more community-based residential options, some provinces are shifting towards alternative family homes and independent living supports, such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta.
Although they represent a step towards person-centred care, these unregulated, volatile and underfunded support options ultimately place more responsibility on families and individuals to ensure that people with disabilities’ needs are always being met.