Read our open letter to Minister MacLeod: A more restrictive definition of ‘disability’ would limit access to the ODSP program

Dear Minister MacLeod,

The Ontario Alliance to End Homelessness (OAEH) is a network of communities, agencies, and individuals dedicated to preventing and ending homelessness in Ontario. Currently comprised of more than a dozen localities, we serve to bring together locally-driven homelessness groups into one united voice on homelessness in Ontario. Through collaboration and evidence-informed decision making we are committed to partnerships that can solve homelessness in Ontario.

We are aware that the definition of ‘disability’ for the purposes of Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) eligibility is under consideration. It is our concern that the proposed changes will result in a significant reduction in eligibility to obtain ODSP for those with episodic disabilities and mental health disabilities. Using a more restrictive definition of ‘disability’ would limit access to the ODSP program for people who may be able to periodically support themselves, and at other times are not due to the cyclical nature of their health condition. This will most disproportionately affect those individuals living with mental illness or addictions. Over 50% of ODSP recipients fall into one of these categories, significantly impacting the supports available to those who are most often employed in low-paying part-time jobs without access to health benefits.

Restricted access to ODSP will also mean more people will have to rely on Ontario Works (OW), a significantly lower social assistance rate. Systems will be stretched as OW recipients will present with more complex issues, including disabilities and other medical, social and personal barriers. These changes will not only shift cost and responsibility from the provincial government to less equipped municipalities but means those most in need of support will be put in increasingly vulnerable positions.

Today many individuals with disabilities in our community already struggle to find safe, accessible, housing which they can afford on their monthly ODSP allowance. Many find themselves homeless, or at-risk of homelessness. Access to the lesser rate provided through OW will make housing and other needs, such as special meals, and medical supplies, out of reach for many vulnerable individuals. This in turn will put greater strain on those individuals, our medical system and the broader community.

We are concerned that the proposed changes to ODSP criteria will have a significant negative impact on those most in need in our community, including destabilizing their housing and their recovery. We also recognize that our city and province as a whole will be impacted. Businesses thrive from having a community which is as supported and healthy as possible. Landlords prosper from stable, supported tenants able to afford their rent. Our healthcare system benefits when individuals are able to take preventative measures to keep themselves from accessing emergency services.

For these reasons, we ask that you reconsider any changes to the definition of disability, maintaining the current system for ODSP eligibility. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you in person to discuss OAEH’s position on this issue, alignment and opportunities for partnership across your various policy agendas.

Sincerely,

OAEH Steering Committee

OAEH Partners

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