The notion, upon first hearing it, is almost absurd. Nearly four years ago, City Scope referred to it as entirely counter-intuitive. Let an absentee owner off the hook and reach out to the community instead for their help and support.
But, that is exactly the approach lawyer Elena Dempsey was proposing in June of 2014 to turn things around at Walnut Manor — an independent supportive living home operated by Niagara Supportive Living in Welland.
Well, a lengthy conversation this past Wednesday (Jan. 3) with the lawyer at Elgin-Oxford Legal Clinic in St. Thomas confirmed Dempsey is just as passionate.
She had visited the group home at 57 Walnut Street just before Christmas to drop off gifts for the 18 or so residents and found the facility just as dreary and depressing as ever. The food, appalling not appealing.
“I’ve got to resurrect this. It’s just how do I do it and who do I get? What we need is community involvement.”
It’s a concept open to push back from some in the community. Why assist the owners of a for-profit institution?
“But the clients aren’t,” asserted Dempsey. “But when has that ever stopped people from helping. We send aid to countries all the time, and we know damn well the dictators are taking the money.
“It’s for profit . . . that’s just an excuse to do nothing.”
When we teased on Facebook this week that Dempsey would once again make a pitch for community involvement, it quickly prompted this retort from reader Wayne Northcott.
“Why are you trying to reward an owner for not providing for the residents? Funds are provided for meals. The issue is the lack of standards not being enforced. There are regulations governing these homes. Perhaps fines could be effective.
Northcott continues, “Besides, if one owner is allowed to bypass standards, be sure other owners will follow. Of course this is a controversial issues. people deserve quality care but the issue is accountability and enforcement.”
There is no shortage of passion in Dempsey’s pitch to turn around the quality of life for the residents of Walnut Manor. A sea change that could serve as a template for other group homes in the city.
“The reason I bring these gifts here every year is because this is something I can do on my own. I can handle 20 people. I can’t handle 65. I can’t afford that.
“If I can do this for 20, why can’t we all start getting involved,” Dempsey challenges.
“I know this is a for-profit place, but the problem is the profit margins are relatively small. As grungy as these owners are, if they go away then our clients are homeless.”
And, there’s the rub. There are times when honey will do the trick in lieu of vinegar.
“I could bring legal proceedings,” Dempsey asserted four years ago, “but to what end? It’s a blunt instrument the law. It takes time and what we could end up with is this guy shutting down.”
Instead, she stresses, get the owners involved in a positive fashion.
“This probably has to have some relationship building, trust building. This guy (director Vishal Chityal) has lied. I know he has lied. He lied straight to our faces at one meeting when he talked about a nutritionist. They didn’t have a nutritionist on staff. I called his bluff and said I can’t believe any nutritionist would approve this menu. It’s the ugliest, most depressing kitchen.
“I could go in and go nuts on them,” she reinforced, “but to what end? Get it shut down and have 18 people without a home. No one is going to get me to push hard on these owners, because I know what will happen. They will just close. That isn’t the goal I want. I want people to be housed in a clean, safe environment.”
So, What exactly is Dempsey proposing?
“I want these owners to build trust … This property is interesting because it has a good-sized yard. We could get people in during the summer to garden and the people there – I call them inmates because it’s worse than prison – could get involved if they want.
“It’s pretty easy to grow tomatoes and zucchini. We could get some people to come in and put in new carpeting at the front. Paint the place.”
There are area businesses that could donate surplus items or goods beyond their best-before date.
How about the volunteers from Therapeutic Paws of Canada, who could visit on a regular basis with their therapy pets?
“I see this as a really amazing way for us to set up a micro-model. I’m putting this on my new year’s resolution list. It’s not enough to bring over some food once in a while.
“If we start building, I think it would be amazing the momentum. To me, this could be a model for all of these group homes, and just think of the change we could affect. Community involvement, utilize our resources. Seniors who are active and interested. For-profit businesses that say ‘This is so easy for us to do,’ and the benefit is 50 times more than the cost. It’s our modern-day Dickens.”
This corner is throwing its support behind Dempsey and her refreshing, outside-the-box approach to combat the warehousing of our most vulnerable citizens.
I know many faithful readers would be willing to assist in any way possible, no matter how insignificant it may appear.
Looking for a new year’s resolution? Get in touch with City Scope via the contact info below.
“If we get a group of people together,” enthuses Dempsey, “and set up a structure, the possibilities are endless.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
St. Thomas council has a welcoming gift for the next mayor of the city. The winning mayoral candidate in this fall’s municipal vote will be rewarded with a substantial pay raise.
City council on Thursday (Jan. 4) debated recommendations contained in a report from the select committee struck last year to review council remuneration. Beginning in 2019, the mayor will be paid $58,040 per year, up from the present salary of $52,858. The vehicle allowance will remain at $5,000.
Councillor salaries will hold at $21,833 annually, with a $1,000 vehicle allowance. And they will be eligible for a $55 per month cell phone stipend.
A recommendation to pay members of council for attending committee and board meetings got a thumbs down.
St. Thomas council did away with extra pay for sitting on outside boards and committees when it adopted – in October, 2008 – a new remuneration policy proposed by then alderman Dave Warden.
“I introduced the equal pay schedule that everyone was treated fairly and that was always one of my platforms,” recalled Warden as he announced in August of 2014 he would not seek re-election.
“I don’t want to go back to that (compensation for attending such meetings),” stressed Mayor Heather Jackson at Thursday’s reference committee meeting.
“I agree with that,” added Coun. Gary Clarke. (Such a system) “leads to cherry-picking and abuse.”
Clarke went on to remind councillors an increase in their salary would be out of order as “council voted to increase (in size) by one because of the work load.”
A report finalizing compensation details – including a daily stipend for a member serving as acting mayor and vehicle allowance – will come before council for approval at a future meeting.
PUTTING CONSUMERS FIRST
With the launch of a new year, much of the focus this week has been on the minimum wage increase that came into effect Jan. 1.
However another relevant piece of legislation, Bill 59, also took effect that same day.
Known as Putting Consumers First Act, it allows municipalities to regulate the location and number of payday loan establishments.
Individuals using payday loan and cheque-cashing services will now have additional protection.
Payday lenders must provide borrowers with an extended payment plan if borrowers take out three or more loans with the same lender within a 63-day period.
In addition, payday lenders can only lend up to 50 per cent of a borrower’s net pay per loan.
The cost of borrowing a payday loan must be disclosed as an annual percentage rate in any advertisements and in an agreement.
The maximum fee for cashing government-issued cheques is capped at $2 plus one per cent of the face value of the cheque or $10, whichever is less.
And these service providers must issue a receipt when cashing government-issued cheques.
The city has received just shy of $362,000 in funding from the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program. It had applied to the program in August of last year.
Eligible projects include a multi-use path from the area of 300 South Edgeware Road to 235 Burwell Road; a bike lane along Fairview Avenue from the area of Faith Christian Academy to just north of Raven Ave., and from there north to Elm St.; a bike lane along Centre Street, between Ross St. and Princess Ave., and extending west to Hincks St.; a bike lane along Elm St., between Wilson and First avenues.
The city must contribute 20 per cent – $90,000 – toward the projects, which must be completed by 2020.
ON THE CALENDAR
The first council meeting of the year is 6 p.m. Monday (Jan. 8) in the council chamber at city hall. One of the reports on the agenda deals with the attendance record of council members. There’s more to the story here than just a series of numbers. Shameful reporting from one media outlet on this one. Keep up the good fight Linda.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
Visit us on Facebook