Guest Blog from Pat Capponi: When Deb Matthews meets with Smokey…..

When Deb Matthews meets with Smokey, the OPSEU head, wouldn’t it be cool if she said:

“Smokey, we are on the cusp of great possibilities when it comes to those who are burdened with mental illness, addictions, trauma, and poverty. ”

We have in ignorance wronged this population, now that that this ignorance has been pierced by the very same people we mistakenly de-valued, we must act to right these wrongs.

This is not to suggest workers have deliberately acted in ways that harmed their clients, but best intentions and motives have not helped to significantly alter the outcomes for those same clients.

Two factors have increased the urgency with which we must address these issues.

Economic austerity has opened the door to recognition that the diagnosis of a mental illness should never mean being pensioned off for life that everyone can and should contribute to the life and wealth of the province.

The recent report by Judge Iacobucci into police shootings of people in crisis calls for more system accountability, though I do disagree that we need more dollars, I think we can achieve better co-ordination and certainly better outcomes through re-design, amalgamation, and opening up positions for those with lived experience.

Staff, your members, need to see that recovery and independence are more than possible, they need re-education around engagement with clients, hopefully done by the clients themselves.

More and more we hear from consumer/survivors that they want to work, especially within the systems they know so well, and yearn to affect in positive ways.  There is no better way to affect attitudes and assumptions about this population than by working side by side with individuals who have lived the life.

Smokey, I know you and your members are concerned about jobs, in institutions and agencies, and I respect that.  But we have broader concerns, we have to look at the waste of human potential, the suffering of those who cannot aspire to contribute their talents and abilities because too often they are unrecognized and unseen.

We cannot ignore the reality that our fractured systems hive off sections of this population, in drop-ins and boarding homes and agencies, and keep them for years in exactly the same circumstances.

There is no coordination, little to no expectations of moving forward, moving on.  There is heavy reliance on control and coercion, neither of which make for empowered clients. For this we all must take responsibility, especially governments that funded programs without demands for real outcomes. This must change.

The poor should not be treated as a natural resource to be exploited, nor should we feel that working with this population is a right.

We are all part of the problem.  We must all be part of the solution.  That will entail opening up traditional union jobs to people with lived experience: we need to re-train workers in the recovery model, ensure that everyone works together to ensure best outcomes.      We must reduce paternalism, and reduce the number of programs that simply keep people in place.

While I understand that change is difficult, we cannot continue to sabotage the ability of clients to achieve by spending on programs that do not deliver, or staff that can’t see the human potential in their clients.

Pat Capponi