It’s Community Living Month in B.C., and the province’s Minister of Social Development and Social Innovation Don McRae was in Cranbrook Friday to mark the occasion.
McRae was guest of honour at a special lunch held by the Cranbrook Society of Community Living Friday to recognize businesses and other stakeholders in community living.
Organizations such as the City of Cranbrook, the Salvation Army and Works BC, and businesses such as McDonald’s, Waste Management and the Cranbrook Daily Townsman employ individuals with disabilities, and McRae spoke to the converted about how businesses benefit from hiring people with disabilities.
“One of the things that some people in our society don’t realize is that persons with disabilities are incredibly loyal, they like to stay with a company that has allowed them to come work for them, they are incredibly hard working, they are incredibly diligent in showing up on time, and they are a huge asset to that employer,” said Minister McRae.
He pointed out that 95 per cent of people with disabilities require less than $500 spent by businesses to help them adapt to the position, and 60 per cent require no adaptation. Yet 70 per cent of people with disabilities in B.C. are unemployed.
“Persons with disabilities have such a great role to play in our society. They have the ability to step up and provide huge opportunities to every employer in the province in every sector,” said McRae.
During his speech, McRae announced a new $100,000 scholarship fund that will begin taking applications on January 1, 2014.
Through Community Living B.C. and the B.C. Government Employees’ and Service Union, the fund allows people with disabilities throughout B.C. to apply for scholarships of up to $2,500 for:
• skills training related to securing employment opportunities;
• training courses being offered by accredited BC institutions;
• indirect costs associated with attending post-secondary education and training; and
• community recreation activities that promote quality of life and new skills.
“Lots of us have been in jobs where we get to a certain degree in the company and we can’t go any further because we don’t have the skills going forward. This might be allowing an individual to do a bit more training, maybe get a promotion, maybe the chance to apply for a different job, that gives you more opportunity,” McRae said. “It’s all about inclusion and choice and employability.”
Earlier on Friday, Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett took Minister McRae to the Salvation Army in Cranbrook, where a proposed homeless shelter would be built if B.C. Housing approves funding.
Bennett has previously said that getting funding for the shelter is his top priority in this term in office.
“If Bill has made it the number one project that he is going to take on this term, I know we will be hearing a lot about it in Victoria,” McRae said, calling Bennett a “bulldog” in taking on issues for the Kootenays.
“This opportunity, with a combination of transition housing, some shelter space and space for families, it’s a large investment and one that I think is really important for the good of the community,” McRae said.
“Programs like this will keep people out of the health system which saves the province huge amounts of money, and it will also give individuals a better quality of life.”
The proposed homeless shelter would be operated by the Salvation Army. The plans as presented to B.C. Housing are for a $16.6 million facility that would include 15 overnight beds for men and 15 for women; 16 second-floor units for stays up to two years; 16 third-floor units for stays longer than two years; and four family units with three bedrooms in each.
Besides housing, the facility will have a commercial kitchen and cafeteria, and space for amenities such as hair cuts, access to computers, counselling, and a dentist’s office.