Having just been denied an investigation by the previous B.C. ombudsperson, a Victoria anti-poverty advocate hopes that the new office-holder will tackle the provincial push to make social-services recipients use computers to get assistance, something he says contributes to homelessness.
“The moral, and I think responsible, decision — given the purpose of the ombudsperson’s office — is to do something about what is happening at the Ministry of Social Development,” said Stephen Portman, interim executive director of the Together Against Poverty Society.
“The inaccessibility of the ministry is perpetuating our homeless crisis, and it is perpetuating misery in the people who depend on [it] as a lifeline.”
The difficulties included wait times averaging 34 minutes in 2014 for the ministry’s call centre and 90 computer page-views to apply for welfare, something that hampers people who cannot read or afford access to phones and computers, says TAPS. It is one of nine public-interest groups that applied to former ombudsperson Kim Carter on May 12 for an investigation of the denial of services due to technological issues.
They were turned down on June 23, with Carter stressing in a five-page letter that investigations of individual cases, some with wide-ranging repercussions, were the way to go.
In addition to the problems with access to phones and computers, the technological approach is difficult for people who have problems with literacy, affordability, translation or typing, Portman said.
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