Open letter to B.C. minister of social development Michelle Stilwell from Carnegie Community Action Project

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      The Carnegie Community Action Project has issued the following open letter to Michelle Stilwell, B.C. minister of social development and social innovation:

      Dear Minister,

      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 .

      Yours sincerely,

      Carnegie Community Action Project Volunteers, 401 Main St. , Vancouver, BC V6A 2T7.




      Feb 24, 2015 at 12:33pm

      Nothing in any of the social service acts requires people to have a telephone. This is a great example of abusive bureaucracy. Nothing in the act says you need to use a computer to fill in a long form, either. But, you know, if you give a moose a muffin---if the bureaucrats can get you to do X1, without legal requirement, then they will get you to do X2 and X3 and X4.

      If someone isn't adequately served by the ministry, the next stop should be the Court, to file a claim for whatever is due in social service, which is not being provided by the Ministry. Unless it is all settled really quickly, AFAIK the poor pretty much never sue the provincial government for support.

      So concerned

      Feb 24, 2015 at 9:33pm

      The ministry's service delivery changes in recent months have not only prevented clients from accessing services but they are keeping ministry staff disconnected from their clients and bogged down with confusing processes. Everyone is losing. Other provinces experienced similar issues and eventually returned to caseloads.

      It is outrageous to say there is "no wrong door" when accessing services because when people go to offices they are turned away. When they phone with multiple questions they are told the can only ask one question and will need to call back if they have multiple requests. The faxes are sitting in a huge pile and not being worked on because the computer system, centralized phones and staff work groups are all centred on statistics and not service.

      It is shameful and appalling and this should not be acceptable. The public doesn't outcry because they think of welfare as a choice. But these are women fleeing abuse, children that are hungry, cancer patients and paraplegics and vulnerable youth. These people are your neighbours and your family members and could one day be you.

      When EI takes less time than welfare there is a problem. When people have to wait days for food money and weeks for rent there is something wrong. When sick individuals can't get transportation due to delays and wait months for equipment something is seriously broken.


      Feb 25, 2015 at 4:54pm

      I believe that's a toll-free number that can be dialed from a public phone (yes I know there are that many of them around nowadays).

      Bob Watts

      Feb 26, 2015 at 5:08pm

      The Minister can not dial the 1-866 herself to find out the real wait time! Wow!
      I'm disabled and had a designated worker that I could call directly as I needed help or once every 2 months, they took that service away from me and all other disabled, from what I gather.
      The real wait time is about 50 mins, when you dial in they say wait time is 30 mins but it turns into 50 mins 99% of the time, there is also a 20% chance you'll be disconnected, then the wait time restarts at 50 mins. I made 4 calls one day it took 5 1/2 hours to complete but that was 2 months ago, have things really improved that fast? They only give you a max of 11 minutes to resolve a problem if not it is back to another 50 min wait!

      They do have a call back service but they only allow 2 rings then hangup, me with an air line up my nose can not run that fast. If I'm breathing too hard they hangup on me saying I'm insulting them, I then tap on the phone and they get very upset, so I get a letter in the mail stating I'll be cut off the phone service because I'm a bad person, I want my designated worker back she saw my number pop up and she was so happy to hear from me. Now that I'm terminal I could use the designated worker more than ever. My ex worker has a GAG order on her, she can not even say hi to me in public. I talked to one worker on the phone who said he/she now services over 7,000 clients compare to a couple of hundred before, knowing a persons needs is now not possible, very sad, I feel.

      Last month I called the 1-866 service asking them to call me and it worked perfect, but 2 hours later the 1-866 service rang me, and a woman asked me who I am, I said I'm a disabled person on Vancouver Island can I help you? She said she was on the 1-866 service and they where transferring her to the Prince George office to deal with her benefit cheque! I told her to contact her MLA and the Ombudspersons office, if she was not getting helped. I know that mistake transferring this person to my home phone was going to cost her another 50 mins on the phone.

      Communication was faster in 1912! My only conclusion is the BC government wants to perfect a 1-866 system, and then outsource the welfare system to Asia, prove me wrong!!!