Anyone who frequents public meetings in Prince Rupert is probably familiar with Lothar Schliese even if they don’t know him personally. Lothar is a man of strong opinions but often lacks the eloquence to try to get them across to others; often giving long and rambling “questions” that are really more comments than actual questions.
Lothar says he has Asperger’s Syndrome which is a form of Autism and can make social interaction difficult.
When Lothar has something to say it’s hard to get him to stop, even if the connection between what he’s talking about and the issue at-hand is tenuous at best. Rightly or wrongly, most times people at meetings politely hear him out, answer his “question” as best they can and move on without much more consideration of what he said.
And that’s the problem says Lothar, people may listen out of politeness but not actually do anything. That’s what disabled people in Prince Rupert have to put up with when they have concerns about the agencies who are supposed to help them.
Lothar explained in-detail that during the cold-snap the other week, he had to jerry-rig a solution to his drafty house using some heavy plastic sheeting and magnets he harvested from a refrigerator someone was throwing out to create a door that would seal to keep the cold air out. Inside his little enclosure he says he had his heaters going and it was still only a couple degree’s above zero.
The point he wanted to make with this anecdote is that social service delivery in Prince Rupert has become so impersonal that it is hard to find an actual person to talk to for help.
“I cannot find anyone to help me in this community. There’s another person I know whose like me, Aspergers, but very dyslexic. A very smart cookie but he can’t get things done, I am trying to help him. During the the cold snap they lost electricity for a day and a half,” says Lothar.
“I managed to find the place I am in now in July. I was able to get myself out of Raffles [Hotel]. The personnel I’ve talked to, you have to call an 1-800 number, you get a different person.”
Lothar says that when the city tries to help disabled residents the habit is to talk with just the agencies and organizations dedicated to that goal, when they should be talking to disabled residents themselves for their needs and opinions.
“There’s nobody asking us. No one ever asks us,” says Lothar.
Lothar says he and his unnamed friend are helping to take care of a woman he thinks might not be alive if they didn’t.
“I’m trying to give you an idea: two citizens with disabilities come forward because nobody else is doing anything. That’s pretty something.”
Mayor Jack Mussallem offered to see what city hall can do to help him with his heating issue.
Now, usually that’s where most other meetings would move on from what Lothar says without looking back. But after all the items on the agenda were finished, talk returned the issue he raised.
“I think he has a point. It’s something that I have raised several times, then we agree and it sort of drops off which is very unfortunate. We should talk to. . . the people dependent of social services in town about how they are doing. We’ve helped a number of people deal with Raffles for example and it has many shortcomings,” says Councillor Joy Thorkelson.
Thorkelson agrees that having to call a 1-800 number to talk to someone as far away as Nelson instead of talking to a worker in Prince Rupert is a problem.
“The worker has no idea what the local circumstances are, has no idea who the local players are, no idea where the housing unfit to house anybody is, and my feeling is that we should be trying to get a meeting. Mr. Schliese says it should’t be just with the agencies, it should be with the people who have disabilities to find out what they think,” says Thorkelson.
Thorkelson says that since Prince Rupert has one of the highest number of welfare recipients recipient per capita , they should talk to Social Services about accessibility too. Thorkelson says there is a big divide in the quality of life between the people who are getting by okay and those who are not.
“I don’t see the city solving all of these issues, but we can play a role in getting these people together to talk about it,” she says.
Jack Mussallem asked Thorkelson how she thinks they should go about putting together a meeting like this. Thorkelson suggested talking to the agencies first about what kind of meeting they’d be willing to attend and then invite people who depend on their services to come and the city would act as a kind of facilitator between the two groups.
“Bring EI and welfare to town and let them hear what people’s frustrations are.”
The Mayor suggested doing it the other way around. Talking to the people first, finding specific complaints about, or failings of, the way services are delivered in Prince Rupert, confirming them and then lobbying the agencies for change if need be with the assistance of the MLA and MP.
“You may get these agencies to go there once, but you might not be able to get them to come again,” says Mayor Mussallem.
The council eventually decided to have staff look into how they should move forward to have a meeting with residents who have concerns about the delivery of any kind of social services in the community, and with the agencies either together or separately.