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LETTER: Empower Simcoe changes have 'devalued' son's life

'Empower Simcoe has taken away his sense of safety, community and belonging,' father laments of changes at local agency
2019-05-15 Empower Simcoe 5
Empower Simcoe's Orillia office at 35 West St. N. | Nathan Taylor/OrilliaMatters file photo

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What is Empower Simcoe?

I want someone to define Empower Simcoe. Parents of people with special needs were never consulted nor approved of a name change. We never approved of a new direction of service delivery or lack thereof. Our adult children’s wants and needs are ignored, not empowered.

Since the name change, the “board” has empowered itself to deny users their personal use of their own building on King Street in Orillia. (See story about this, here). This has arbitrarily disrupted my son’s life by taking away his comfort in knowing they have a safe place to congregate and meet friends.

The drop-in centre for people with special needs is to be closed permanently without regard to client or parental concerns. No permission was asked nor given by users or parents to close their building. “COVID restrictions” was the original excuse to take away their meeting place.

My son’s life has not been “empowered.” It has been devalued. He had a safe space to congregate and socialize with others of like-minded interests. The drop-in centre has a TV room, computer room, quiet room, social room, meeting room, all that he can participate in as his choosing.

People like himself, whom he can interact with at will, without fear of teasing, bullying or abuse, could partake in activities as they choose. They have known each other their entire lives. It is his community.

Together, they attended preschool, public school, high school, programs, outings, activities, bowling, ball hockey, etc. They are a group; they are their own community. Due to the closure, my son is further isolated from his community and friends. No more safe haven. Nowhere to encourage social interaction. Nowhere to congregate.

Before COVID, twice a week, my son would go to the drop-in at 9 a.m. He would socialize with his friends before heading out with a small group for an activity. I would pick him up at 3 p.m. That was six hours away from home twice a week.

Now he gets only two hours twice a week away from home. We did this for over 20 years after the workshops were closed. Now, there is no workshop or other supports for him.

Clients are now compartmentalized and can only associate with one or two or three of their friends because the whole “Empower Simcoe” special needs community has been divided into smaller “cohorts.”

Someone, without consulting parents, decided it is better to have activities in small groups, further limiting their communal interaction. They fail to understand the dynamic of belonging to a larger group and ability to socialize and maintain established relationships.

We as parents try to provide the best home environment, but cannot fulfil his social needs as a member of his own community. Empower Simcoe has taken away his sense of safety, community and belonging. Now is the time to encourage his sense of belonging and allow him to socialize with like-minded people in a building suited to his community. Keep the drop-in centre open and provide meaningful programs.

Brian Shaw