Nelson Committee on Homelessness frustrated at cut-backs to Income Assistance office hours
The Nelson Committee on Homelessness voiced its strong opposition and growing alarm Wednesday against a marked decrease in the open hours of the BC Ministry of Social Development’s Income Assistance office in Nelson – and the affect it is having on the population it is supposed to serve.
The office serves those on and applying for welfare and Persons With Disability (PWD) benefits.
As of September 8th the office decreased its accessibility to only three open hours each weekday: 1-4 pm, except for cheque day and the Thursday following.
“This is yet another cutback that makes the system less responsive to the vulnerable population it is designed to serve,” said Amy Taylor of The Advocacy Centre, a community service offering legal information and advocacy for low-income residents. “It started with mandatory on-line applications for welfare and call centres; now come further office hour cutbacks.”
“With this trend, we wonder what the future holds in further cutbacks,” she added.
Community service groups wonder what will happen to low-income people who do not otherwise have access to a computer, are computer illiterate, live rurally with few or no transportation choices, or simply have problems navigating alone through a complex application process for welfare.
“This is unacceptable,” said Ann Harvey, Community Coordinator of the Nelson Committee on Homelessness.
“It is a further erosion of income assistance services in our community and province. It will further impede and jeopardize people’s right and access to income security and, by extension, their health and well-being.”
A client of Nelson CARES Transitional Support Worker Bev Derby observed,
“This government makes it so damned difficult to get help. Some just give up, which saves them money and makes them look like heroes.”
Community Outreach Worker Stacey Lock of NCSC stated, “This presents barriers for people looking for social assistance when they are most in need. The office is closed most of the day now. Also, some people are not familiar with computers and will not be able to navigate this new self-serve system. I am concerned that people with physical disabilities and on a low income may not have access to computers or the ability to go down to the office, even with their reduced hours.”
Amy Taylor of the Advocacy Centre, said they have drawn the line against these cutbacks.
“Community agencies shouldn’t have to fill the service gaps left by the cutbacks, said Taylor. “We don’t have the staff to do so, but many applicants require assistance. What are they to do?”
Taylor stated that Ministry clients can call a call centre, but the wait to speak to someone can run up to 30 minutes, and people give up in frustration, especially if they are borrowing a phone to make the call.
“It’s been a steady decline,” said Taylor. “Where people used to have one worker from their local office who dealt with their file, now they talk to different workers from all over the province. This leads to delays, inconsistencies and further accessibility problems for the client.”
Harvey added “We continue to be concerned about homeless people’s access to bank accounts, as direct deposit is being adopted more and more as the means of receiving an income assistance cheque. This just doesn’t work if you have no fixed address.”
Community service providers in Nelson hope that people will contact the provincial government to “rethink these regressive and ultimately costly policy changes”.
Community outreach workers will begin tracking the number of people who are not able to access on-line services or who get “dropped off” income assistance rolls simply for a lack of ability to respond in the only ways provided by the Ministry.
The Nelson Committee on Homelessness has been active since 2001 addressing poverty and homelessness issues in Nelson.
October 12-18 is Homelessness Action Week in Nelson.