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Rogers and Byrne clash over ‘deplorable’ living conditions of men on social assistance


Advanced Education, Skills and Labour Minister Gerry Byrne accused NDP MHA Gerry Rogers of playing politics and failing in her “duty to care” by failing to provide the name of a man living in a squalid boarding house.

But Rogers said Byrne is the one failing to address the issue and distracting from the fact that government funds support men living in “deplorable” conditions in St. John’s boarding houses.

“We have a duty of care to act quickly to ensure that health and safety are protected. Ms. Rogers never did come forward with that information; 24 hours passed, and that caused me concern,” Byrne told reporters.

“We have social workers. We have caseworkers. We have professionals who can assist whenever we find out that an individual’s safety and security is placed in question.”

The issue started on Tuesday afternoon when Rogers raised the issue of “Thomas” at the end of question period, saying he lived among “bedbugs, holes in walls, filth and inadequate food” and his rent was being paid by social services.

At the time, Byrne asked her for the man’s information, so his department could investigate. Byrne said that instead Rogers wanted to take him to visit the boarding house — Byrne called that a “photo-op.”

A day later, on Wednesday, Rogers raised the issue again in question period, and Byrne tore into her.

“It is unacceptable that after asking that question to bring forward the name of the individual so that we can provide for their care, this honourable member did not,” Byrne said. “Either Tom does not exist, or the honourable member left the individual in a state of vulnerability.”

Speaking to reporters after question period, Rogers acknowledged “Thomas” was not the man’s real name. She also said she never said the man was in imminent danger, contrary to what Byrne claimed.

“The issue I was raising is a systemic issue, and it’s an issue I’ve raised in the House a number of times over the past few years,” she said.

“The police know about it. Government knows about it. Social workers know about it. Yet nothing is done.”

Rogers said there are a lot of people who are living with mental illness, or who have committed crimes, or who have no family, or have some combination of those factors, and they wind up on social assistance living in terrible conditions.

“In this one particular house that I visited today, there are at least six men living on one floor, and they share one towel,” she said. “Many of them, their bedding hasn’t been changed, perhaps in years. There are holes in the walls. There are exposed wires. The food is inadequate.”

She said it’s taxpayer dollars that are paying the rent, so changes need to happen to the Residential Tenancies Act, and the government needs to do more to improve these living conditions.

Rogers said after she got consent from the man identified as “Thomas” on Wednesday, she gave his information to Byrne.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

But Rogers said Byrne is the one failing to address the issue and distracting from the fact that government funds support men living in “deplorable” conditions in St. John’s boarding houses.

“We have a duty of care to act quickly to ensure that health and safety are protected. Ms. Rogers never did come forward with that information; 24 hours passed, and that caused me concern,” Byrne told reporters.

“We have social workers. We have caseworkers. We have professionals who can assist whenever we find out that an individual’s safety and security is placed in question.”

The issue started on Tuesday afternoon when Rogers raised the issue of “Thomas” at the end of question period, saying he lived among “bedbugs, holes in walls, filth and inadequate food” and his rent was being paid by social services.

At the time, Byrne asked her for the man’s information, so his department could investigate. Byrne said that instead Rogers wanted to take him to visit the boarding house — Byrne called that a “photo-op.”

A day later, on Wednesday, Rogers raised the issue again in question period, and Byrne tore into her.

“It is unacceptable that after asking that question to bring forward the name of the individual so that we can provide for their care, this honourable member did not,” Byrne said. “Either Tom does not exist, or the honourable member left the individual in a state of vulnerability.”

Speaking to reporters after question period, Rogers acknowledged “Thomas” was not the man’s real name. She also said she never said the man was in imminent danger, contrary to what Byrne claimed.

“The issue I was raising is a systemic issue, and it’s an issue I’ve raised in the House a number of times over the past few years,” she said.

“The police know about it. Government knows about it. Social workers know about it. Yet nothing is done.”

Rogers said there are a lot of people who are living with mental illness, or who have committed crimes, or who have no family, or have some combination of those factors, and they wind up on social assistance living in terrible conditions.

“In this one particular house that I visited today, there are at least six men living on one floor, and they share one towel,” she said. “Many of them, their bedding hasn’t been changed, perhaps in years. There are holes in the walls. There are exposed wires. The food is inadequate.”

She said it’s taxpayer dollars that are paying the rent, so changes need to happen to the Residential Tenancies Act, and the government needs to do more to improve these living conditions.

Rogers said after she got consent from the man identified as “Thomas” on Wednesday, she gave his information to Byrne.

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

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