June 23, 2015 | Stefania Seccia | 24 hours
Unable to find work after taking time off school to pay his student loan bills, Christopher Shay found himself needing social assistance.
He didn’t expect the system assigned to support him would place more barriers in his path.
That’s why Shay, 42, who was born deaf and speaking through his interpreter Alana McKenna, has filed a complaint against the Ministry of Social Development and Social Innovation to the BC Human Rights Tribunal.
Shay was a life skills worker and an educational assistant, and then began studying computer science at Douglas College in 2012. He withdrew two years later as his student loans were high and he wanted to work to pay down some of the debt incurred.
After being unable to find employment, he applied for welfare last September, specifying he had an immediate need of assistance.
In the subsequent five weeks he waited to get $610 a month, lost 20 pounds, faced eviction three times, and “didn’t want to be alive.”
I thought I would become homeless, and maybe die on the street because I didn’t know where I was going to get any money from
“I thought I would become homeless, and maybe die on the street because I didn’t know where I was going to get any money from,” he said. “I felt very angry at the system. I felt very depressed.
“My self-esteem was absolutely diminished and it was a real hit on my dignity.”
In January, Shay started receiving about $906 a month for disability assistance, but only has $65 left for everything beside his BC Hydro bill and rent.
“I know I’m not alone,” he said. “To wait five weeks before receiving any sort of assistance is outrageous when the policy specifically states it’s meant to be within one business day.
“There was no explanation.”
The BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre filed the complaint on behalf of Shay, and the tribunal has agreed to hear his case.
Sarah Khan, Shay’s lawyer, said his case is one of the most extreme ones she’s seen.
“Usually the delays are one to three weeks and five weeks is an extreme delay,” she said. “The policy sounds good on paper; meeting the (immediate need of assistance) within one business day is a great policy, it’s a great service standard to have, but when it’s not being implemented I find it really frustrating that year after year this problem persists.”
In May, the centre filed a complaint with the B.C. ombudsperson on behalf of nine groups over allegations that the government has slashed access to welfare despite claiming enhanced services.
In response, Minister Michelle Stilwell said, “I trust you will understand that we cannot comment as the matter is before the human rights tribunal.”