Home Depot to the rescue

Community Living British Columbia's offices are getting a makeover. In an interview with Public Eye, communications director Sally Greenwood confirmed the authority is rennovating many of its workspaces throughout the province, turning them into open space offices. Explained Ms. Greenwood, "This is something that's being done more and more in many organizations now." But, in the case of Community Living British Columbia, "any rennovations that we are doing are for the betterment of the space" - to make them more "welcoming environments" where clients will eventually be able to "log onto computers if they don't have Internet access."

Moreover, she said, "I don't think we see such a strong need - as we may have in the past - to have walled office space when one of the objectives of our staff now - both from a quality service perspective, as it relates to service providers, and a community planning and development perspective, as it relates to individuals and families - is to get our staff out of the office, meeting with people more and doing business as it is most suitable for those individuals we're trying to support and work with."

But not all the walls at community living offices are being taken down. "Cubicles will be used for a majority of the office space," said Ms. Greenwood. "And we're ensuring there are private, secluded meeting rooms at a certain ration per number of people in the office."

Ms. Greenwood couldn't say how many workspaces are being rennovated or who's responsible for the open space office initiative. And there's isn't a budget for those rennovations. The reason: the costs are "being amortized through our leases" with private landlords, she explained. "And, in the case of most of our rennovations, it's something that's just considered to be tennant improvements. And these things are covered by the landlord. It's something that makes someone more interest in their priorities. It's just the nature of doing business and securing leases."


Wow! Zero-budget renovations in an era when such costs are rising for everyone else at 10% every few months! Where do we sign up for this deal of the century?!

Ms. Greenwood's only doing her job, of course, (after all, how would it look for CLBC to be seen spending thousands or millions on office relocations and renovations while thousands of children and adults are being denied critical services on the grounds that there's no money.) Spin aside, if costs are being "amortized", there obviously are costs involved, though it doesn't sound like CLBC is going to share those figures willingly.

And what about clients' privacy? If I have to visit a CLBC office, I want to discuss my business in private and get out. I'm not looking for a welcoming open space where I can play on the Internet. How bizarre is that! Discussions between social workers and families or individuals cover deeply personal matters. Privacy protection should be paramount and we now hear of staff having to beg or borrow their managers' offices every time they need to meet with someone as part of their jobs. I don't think I'm the only parent who'd be very uncomfortable at the thought of my child's file lying around on a desk in this open space for anyone walking by to peruse, or to know that my telephone conversations with CLBC staff are not conducted in strict confidence.

The question, of course, is why go to all the trouble and expense of doing this. Is it so that managers can keep a close eye on wayward social workers who might not be living up to quotas or feeling tempted to vent their low morale? Whatever happened to "relationships based on trust"?

Is it any wonder why the more they spout these grandiose slogans, the more no one believes them?

Ms. Greenwood is quite right about the trend in government towards open-concept offices. The public really should know that SW's in some offices of the Ministry of Children and Family Development have no offices, only cubicles that are open and every conversation about their private and confidential information can be heard, primarily by other caseworkers, but if they have clients around as well?

And the Ministry of Employment & Income Assistance also uses open-concept offices, as well as PODS, which are workers that are part of work unit who rotate job functions on a daily basis. A good amount of people on income assistance, or disability no longer have one worker and are being serviced by numerous people in a month. Also, there is no longer voice mail for MEIA workers, so good luck getting through to talk to anyone. But these are only interim measure, they're almagamating more & more MEIA offices around the province & call centres are being set up to "serve" MEIA clients. It will be a quick move to privatize the whole shebang and set up far less expensive call centres in Bangalore, or China, which I hear has the cheapest labour around. Apparently India expects too much in wages now.

So try being an intellectually challenged person, disability unrecognized (FASD), mentally ill, or not very literate in English and try to access income assistance in this province. This is genocide and systemic discrimination of the marginalized and vulnerable in this province.
The BC government and those who sit in the legislature keeping the party line and let their masters treat people like they are garbage to be thrown away should be ashamed of themselves. The poor may not vote, but a whole lot of other people are going to be fed up with these public policies and the public disorder that will have been flourishing because of their social welfare policies in every community around the province by the next election. Do the right thing and stop this train wreck now.

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