Local governments set to address barriers in helping the vulnerable

Trail is joining Nelson in asking the gov't to acknowledge the barriers that keep people from getting access to social services.

Not everyone has a phone or Internet connection. And 15 hours of office time per week just doesn’t cut it for a steady stream of people from Greater Trail who require help through provincial assistance.

So last week, Trail council agreed to support the City of Nelson’s resolution at an upcoming local government assembly that basically asks the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to acknowledge office closures, reduced times and a centralized service have introduced significant barriers for people requiring income assistance and made it exceedingly difficult for many individuals to receive the support they require.

Local political leaders are asking the ministry to ensure that people requiring help to access income assistance receive such help in a timely manner, in a way that does not place additional economic burden on that person, and in a manner that does not download responsibility for assistance to other service providers without compensation.

“I proposed that Trail council support the resolution being put forward by the City of Nelson at the upcoming AKBLG (Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments) meeting in Kimberley,” Trail Mayor Mike Martin told the Trail Times.” As a number of actions have been taken by the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation which have been detrimental to the service provided to individuals who are applying for or receiving income assistance.”

In 2014, the ministry reduced office hours in 11 locations, including the Nelson and Trail sites, which are now open only three hours a day (1-4 p.m.) Monday to Friday.

Limiting in-person service has led to long lineups. Additionally, people who travel to Trail from Castlegar and other surrounding communities where ministry sites have closed, cannot get to the office on time because of bus schedules or they wait three hours and still aren’t seen because of the long queue.

“(Reduced hours) leaves little time for face-to-face contact with individuals who have limited resources by which to access delivery by way of telephone or Internet,” said Martin.

Wait times for the ministry’s centralized phone service are long, averaging almost an hour, Martin says.

And when callers do get through, a time limit (usually 10 minutes) is placed on the length of call.

Further ancillary concerns include a lack of privacy because office visits are now conducted at a front counter instead of in a private office space and most applicants require assistance to navigate the complex and lengthy online application process.

There is a need to change the service delivery mode and the resolution brings recognition to the problem, Martin added.

“We believe dealing with this matter effectively will build a rich, diverse community in which everyone is welcomed to participate through acknowledgement and support of the needs of those most vulnerable.”

If granted political weight from the AKBLG, the resolution will be presented in a larger venue, the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) in September.

“If supported at that level, the UBCM will take it forward to the provincial government for consideration,” explained Martin. “We are asking for a review and change to the delivery of service to ensure people requiring help to access income assistance receive the necessary help appropriate to their needs and abilities.”

The Association of Kootenay and Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) is the local government association that represents the municipalities and electoral areas of the south-eastern portion of the province of British Columbia. The area includes the Regional Districts of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), Central Kootenay (RDCK), East Kootenay (RDEK) as well as the Town of Golden and the Village of Valemount.