This week, Jeffrey Moncrieff will be moving to Vancouver from Revelstoke. For the last six months he has been living here with his brother Andrew in the Big Eddy. It’s been tough getting out with the snow limiting his mobility. He had to leave his wheelchair in Vancouver, and even if he did have it, it wouldn’t have been much use to him here.
Moncrieff has cerebral palsy and also believes he has some form of autism, though he has not officially been diagnosed with it. He walks with a shuffle and his hand movements are slow and deliberate. He is difficult to understand. He needs help with many day-to-day activities most people take for granted – cleaning, shaving, cooking, doing laundry, even tying his shoes.
I met him at the Big Eddy Market last week, where we had coffee and he told me his story.
“Why can I not get help with cerebral palsy?” he asked at one point during the interview.
Moncrieff, 29, was born in Ottawa. He had support there but slowly ran into trouble. His mother died, as did his grandfather. His uncle, who also helped care for him had his own medical issues. He had other family, but he said it was his brother Andrew he was closest with. He works as a computer programmer, including with Free Geeks in Vancouver and with the Canadian Avalanche Centre, but he has struggled to get support from the government for his living needs.
He left because of the wintery climate. One day he got stuck in the snow on the way to the bank and decided it was time to leave. “I was in a wheelchair, stuck, and I couldn’t even see it was snowing so bad,” he said.
He left for Vancouver, where he met Kimberley Yanko, an activist for people with disabilities.
“If Jeffrey was given the chance, I know he would thrive. He is so good with computers,” she told me.
She went over the various hurdles they went through trying to get him help. First, they were told he needed to be a resident of B.C. for three months before qualifying for services. That meant he couldn’t get a new wheelchair and he couldn’t get glasses to address the loss of sight in one of his eyes.
They went to BC Housing to try to get him into subsidized housing but were told there was a long waiting list and to try a shelter instead.
“I spent many hours trying to help Jeffery and I could not get him the help that he needs, Yanko said. “Everywhere we turned he was denied. He can’t get into housing, he can’t help through CLBC. They’ll just kick him to a shelter. They just don’t care.”
Eventually he was offered a place at the Ted Kuhn Towers in Surrey, a place notorious for its bed bugs. “He has a low immune system,” she said. “I told them – either he gets sick from bed bugs or he gets sick from living on the street.
“Is there no place for him to live? There isn’t. They have absolutely nothing for people with disabilities.”
Eventually he found an apartment in Surrey, but he was evicted. That was when he moved to Revelstoke to live with his brother.
Jeffrey Moncrieff has tried to get into Community Living BC, an agency mandated to provide support for adults with developmental disabilities and those who meet the criteria for personal supports. He was denied because he didn’t meet their criteria. “The documentation we have received does not confirm that you have significant limitations in adaptive functioning in addition to a diagnosis of either a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD),” CLBC wrote in a letter denying him service.
For Moncrieff, that criteria amounts to discrimination. “I don’t think its fair to single out two groups with mental disabilities from a whole range of mental disabilities,” he said. “What happens to everyone else? They can’t get help. We didn’t ask to be born with a disability but we need some assistance and we can become good citizens.”
One of his problems is that he has not been diagnosed with autism, even though he believes he is. He thinks its because with that designation, he would qualify for a number of extra supports. He says his autism means he reacts poorly to social cues, reacts poorly to authority figures and has trouble handling small objects like keys.
In Revelstoke, Moncrieff reached out to Community Connections. He was grateful for their efforts to help and said they did everything they could for him, and more. Executive Director Craig Brown said they tried to help him, but were unable to. He doesn’t meet the criteria for CLBC and the funding isn’t there to provide support a different way.
“Our funding has been cut back significantly,” he said. “Quite frankly, we just don’t have extra dollars to take up this cause or somebody else’s. Not that we wouldn’t love to but quite frankly the funds just aren’t there for it.”
Kelly Riguedell, the program director for Community Living Services for adults, which administers the CLBC program in Revelstoke, said Moncrieff’s case was unique. Because he didn’t qualify for CLBC, she couldn’t support him due to lack of funding.
“He has some unique challenges. He is a unique individual, it’s incredibly sad,” she said.
CLBC has parameters for who they will support, which winds up with some people falling through the cracks. The big thing is that people have to be diagnosed before they’re 19, otherwise they don’t qualify for CLBC.
“I spent lots of time with Jeffrey,” Riguedell said. “He didn’t qualify for my services but that didn’t mean that we didn’t want to try to be supportive and try to help somehow. The problem is he really wanted to qualify for CLBC services.”
Moncrieff also looked to Interior Health and was offered a place in Vernon in what he called an old folks home, but declined. He said Interior Health’s homes are either for seniors or for people with mental health issues, whereas his issues are developmental.
Dr. Robin Brooks-Hill, a psychiatrist at Queen Victoria Hospital, said there are resources for people, but they have to be willing to utilize them. “If you’re not willing to utilize or access them properly, or any kind of follow through or compliance, then you keep falling through the cracks.”
He said the support for someone with cerebral palsy in Revelstoke was limited because of the town’s small size. Much like not having a neuro-surgeon, it’s difficult to provide a service where there isn’t enough demand for it.
Jeffrey Moncrieff told me he wants to be able to live in his own home. In addition to doing some work as a computer programmer, he receives a disability pension. He’s not sure what he will be doing when he returns to Vancouver. He doesn’t have any place to live lined up and hopes he can get into a shelter. Still, he thinks life will be better there. He will have a wheelchair and there’s more to do.
I spoke to Feri Dehdar, the director of programs for the Cerebral Palsy Association of B.C. She knew of Moncrieff’s situation and asked that I tell him to call her. She also called his situation unique.
“We tried to find something for him, but we couldn’t,” she said. “He has a very unique situation. He just came from Ontario to Vancouver unplanned. You just can’t move to a place without having any plan in place. Unfortunately it’s out of our hand.”
She said there was very little in the way of supports for adults with cerebral palsy, and that she sees many people like him. The issue stretches beyond cerebral palsy to other developmental disabilities. The association has a variety of programs for people with cerebral palsy, but like so many others, funding is limited. One suggestion she had was for him to find people in a similar situation to connect with.
“Jeffrey, I feel like he’s doing everything by himself,” she said.” He’s not connected to any other members of the organization.”
This Sunday, April 14, a rally is being held at 800 Robson street in Vancouver to raise awareness of the issues facing people with developmental disabilities. Moncrieff will be there, as will Dehdar and Kimberley Yanko. Yanko is the organizer of the rally and she says British Columbia needs a Disability Act like the one they have in the United States to protect people with disabilities.
“There’s nothing in writing that says they have a right to clean decent living, that they have a right to have food in their stomach,” she said. “There’s nothing like that. We need a Disability Act in B.C.”
Moncrieff wants the same. He also wants to see CLBC’s criteria broadened so he and other like him can be accepted to the program.
“I want them to be allow exceptions in cases and I want to see them make exceptions,” he said. “They need to have a mandate to help. Don’t use your mandate as a cheat out.”
A diagnosis of autism might get him in, but, he said, “I’m not sure I want that easy solution because there a lot more people with cerebral palsy and other conditions that don’t meet the criteria.”