The Carnegie Community Action Project has issued the following open letter to Michelle Stilwell, B.C. minister of social development and social innovation:
Re: Ministry 1-866 number
We are members of the Carnegie Community Action Project who meet every Friday to discuss and act on issues that are important to our community.
Many of us are on disability or social assistance and have had to use the Ministry’s 1-866 number when we need Ministry services or income or when our cheques are withheld and we don’t know why.
As you must know, $610 a month, the social assistance rate for a single person, is not enough to pay rent and buy nutritious food for a month. Because of this, many people who need social assistance cannot afford phones. To tell us that we have to phone to get the services that we need is just putting one more hurdle in our lives. Maybe we can find a community agency that has a free phone. But these phones usually have a 5 minute time limit, and we are on hold, sometimes, for 40 minutes! People line up behind us and start getting angry. We give up and drop the call and don’t get what we need.
Or we buy some precious minutes for a phone so we can contact medical appointments, and prospective employers, and have to waste them while we are on hold with the Ministry.
It is extremely stressful to have to phone to get services and money that we desperately need and then to have to wait such a long time on hold and sometimes get cut off . This stress is bad for our health.
One of our members, who has severe arthritis and no phone, had to wait in lineups to use community phones just so she could get an application for disability assistance. It was so stressful waiting on hold in lineups where people got angry at her for taking so much time that she gave up after several times of trying. As a result, her disability pension was two months later than it would have been, had she been able to get the form when she needed it. She lost about $600 and the Ministry gained about $600.
To make the poorest people in the province always have to wait on hold for 10, 20 or 40 minutes creates a lot of unnecessary stress and is disrespectful of our lives and our humanity. When we call the Ministry it is usually important. We may be on the verge of homelessness. We may need money for food. We may need medicine.
Please tell us what the Ministry intends to do to replace phones with real people and/or end phone wait times.
We would like to invite you to one of our meetings, held every Friday at noon at the Carnegie Centre in Vancouver. If you come we can discuss our experiences with the phone line .
Carnegie Community Action Project Volunteers, 401 Main St. , Vancouver, BC V6A 2T7.