HALIFAX — Nova Scotia says eight small homes for people with disabilities will be completed by spring, but an advocacy group describes the pace of the program as "glacial."
The project, first announced in 2017, reflects the Liberal government's commitment to move people with intellectual disabilities from larger institutions to community-based living, the province said in a release Monday.
Four of the eight residences have already opened in New Glasgow, Isle Madame, New Minas and Yarmouth. The government says two homes under construction in Halifax will open this spring and the remaining two homes, in Milton and Meteghan, are expected to be completed this winter.
Wendy Lill, chairwoman of the Community Homes Action Group, said in an interview Monday her organization is pleased that housing for about 32 people will be available, but she said the Department of Community Services program has been very slow moving.
"What about the hundreds and hundreds who are still on lists?" she said. "The pace is glacial."
Lill communicated her criticism about the pace of construction in a letter sent Jan. 14 to Finance Minister Karen Casey, as the minister was preparing the next provincial budget.
"We know there will be no real progress on diminishing the waitlist and improving the health of this demoralized, vulnerable population and this struggling sector without a new, concerted effort by the provincial government," Lill wrote.
Lill's group has called for an annual investment of at least 25 new small options homes over the next three years, which the group has said will meet the needs of up to 300 people with disabilities who are on waiting lists.
According to Tracey Taweel, deputy minister of community services, there are about 525 Nova Scotians with disabilities living in institutional facilities referred to as adult residential centres or regional rehabilitation centres.
Those facilities are large buildings housing groups of people who are segregated from the community and who often receive intensive, medical-related support.
Taweel said there are about 129 people living in institutions who are on a waitlist for a small options home. As of Jan 12, there were 1,698 people on the overall waitlist for housing, including people seeking a transfer into a different form of housing or who aren't receiving any service from the disability support program, Taweel added.
She noted there are other options for people with disabilities on waiting lists, including independent living in apartments where support is provided. "Over time, we will eventually move all residents in adult residential centres and regional rehabilitation centres," she said.
Taweel said the building of small options homes has been delayed in part, because of the difficulty in finding builders during the pandemic.
She said as added funding becomes available, the province will develop a series of designs that she said will reduce the time needed to construct the small options homes. "We're putting together a series of half a dozen different designs that service providers can draw from," she said. "That will speed up the period of time to get these homes built."
The issue of housing for Nova Scotians with intellectual disabilities gained a high profile in 2018 and 2019 when a human rights inquiry investigated why Beth MacLean, Joseph Delaney and the late Sheila Livingstone — who died before the hearing ended — were held at the Emerald Hall psychiatric unit in Halifax despite opinions from doctors and staff that they could live in the community.
The board of inquiry ruled in 2019 the human rights of the those three people with intellectual disabilities had been violated.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2021.
Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press