Letter to the editor

Across myriad cultures on Earth, there exists a myth referred to as an Ouroboros. In the majority of cultures in which it exists, it functions as a representation of death and rebirth; depicted as a gargantuan serpent doomed to forever chase and consume its tail. In modern, Western usage, the serpent has come to embody a once-great institution, now fallen and struggling to recapture its place of greatness.

On October 3, 2011, I moved into my first apartment at 1010 Sinclair St. in Win- nipeg, Manitoba. There at 24 years old, I began my journey toward living independently as a Power Wheelchair user with Cerebral palsy. I met and made fast friends with neighbours, personal support workers and the community in the neighbourhood. I also learned how to guide the support staff through assisting me as my hands, arms, and legs where my own saw fit to fail me. Be it with meal preparation, cooking, bathing or going to bed – though at 24, who has time to sleep? There’s a whole world to get lost in! They were there with a smile, a laugh and unimaginably large hearts to make sure I could be my best self.

By January of the following year, I’d moved downtown, to another one of TenTen Sinclair Housing’s programs, the Fokus cluster apartments. This meant I’d be as independent as you probably are, dear reader – accounting for my brain being wired up wrong in a socket or two, of course. It also meant no more pre-scheduled-though-tenant-guided support calls anymore. Fokus means flying without a net. They were there 24/7, just as before, still scheduled when to show up, but if I didn’t instruct them, I couldn’t go about my day. This isn’t as awful as you might think – again, I never went without. This time, it was entirely my responsibility to ask for what I needed, since the staff here didn’t have an itinerary for us as they did at TenTen.

I spent the next decade (and counting!) chasing the dream I’d come back to Winnipeg for, and achieving it in ways I couldn’t have possibly imagined. All because of the wonderful staff who made it possible. Eventually, COVID saw fit to hang us all upside down by our shoelaces for our lunch money. That’s when everything began to change. You see, per the bylaws of Fokus Housing, the group of us that lived here have a degree of autonomy when it comes to how the scheduling was done, needs were met and staff were hired. Or at least we did.

During the pandemic, things changed. Much of this was to be expected. We were all upside down and dizzy without lunch money, after all. What wasn’t expected, however, was the gradual and ongoing erosion of that autonomy by the management of TenTen. It began with a noticeable decline in the quality of staff hired to support us, in part due to us no longer being directly and vocally involved in the hiring process of those charged with our care. It culminated in the point of this piece.

At midnight Wednesday, March 6, 2024, 160 wonderful, talented, loving support workers across seven locations (these aren’t facilities, they’re people’s homes) went on strike, seeking better wages, a better standard of work support and other issues. What followed was an abysmal failure of duty of care on the part of management. That night I was left to either sleep in my chair, with the ability to safely void my bladder, or sleep in my bed at 10 p.m. and risk sleeping in my own urine. Why? Because, despite management’s assurances that they’d done their best to ensure no lapses in service, nobody showed up for the overnight shift.

The rest of Wednesday went much the same that night, and the weeks and days leading up to work stoppage, inadequate, near nonexistent communication riddled with platitudes that rang as empty as my bed the night before. Fortunately, I had friends and family at the ready to help out. Others didn’t. Someone could have died. By that evening, the regional health authority rolled in and got my unit back to normal. How does something like this happen? Not because staff are fighting after eight years of overwork and underemployment without adequate wage and structural support, nor because the health authority didn’t do their job.

It happened because management failed to heed years-long warning signs, failed to prepare, failed to admit guilt or even failed to apologize. It happened because those atop the chain of TenTen Sinclair Hous- ing failed to care. They failed to provide us with the basic human dignity of sleeping in our own beds.

In closing, I’d like to address three groups. Firstly, you the reader. Don’t receive this as an opportunity to wave your side’s political flag. If that’s your takeaway, please, leave. This isn’t a political football you can score points with. Secondly, don’t feel sorry for us. Use that energy to ensure this never happens again. Vote. Check on your loved ones, and make sure you leave the world more accessible than you found it. If I don’t, that’s how I failed us in this strike. I’m going to hold you to that standard, too.

Secondly, I’m going to speak directly to management. There is no world in which you did not fail us, no metric by which these outcomes can be considered merely “unfortunate.” There is no interpretation by which all subsequent efforts to fix this by your team can be received as anything other than reputational damage control. It is my opinion that the founders of this once-vital and perpetually necessary organization would be utterly horrified by your decisions in this crisis.

Board Members, Chairperson Wullum and Executive Director Van Ettinger, I implore you to grant yourselves the dignity in this crisis that you couldn’t grant us. Resign. Walk away knowing you tried and failed before we sink. Allow us, your tenants, to begin anew with fresh management. Unlike the infinite Ouroboros, we don’t have much tail left to eat.

Lastly, to my friends, family and the WRHA staff and agencies who’ve stepped in to care for us, thank you. Some of us may not be alive if you hadn’t.

Before I go, Premier Kinew, Health Minister Asagwara, you have an opportunity to make an actual change here, please. Don’t fail us.

-Myles Taylor

Published in Volume 78, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 21, 2024)

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