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The role of work in rehabilitation: a review of welfare agency services for unemployed and handicapped men, Vancouver, 1960 Thomson, James Bannerman

Abstract

A man grows and develops through the activity of "work". It is more than a source of income, though this is apt to be forgotten for the wage earner in the industrialized money-economy of today. When a man is trained to his capacity and is employed, he is an asset to both his community and himself. He experiences a feeling of self-worth; he can be a figure of respect and adequacy to his wife and children. In contrast to this, a wage-earner decays when exposed to prolonged periods of enforced idleness. Unemployment demoralizes, debilitates and isolates; normal energetic drives may be turned into anxiety, guilt and depression. Unemployment aggravates other personal and social problems which break down men, their wives and children. All this is particularly true among the "lower strata" of the unemployed. In October, 1959, in Vancouver, almost 20,000 men and women were registered with the National Employment Service. At the same time there were only 1,000 unfilled job vacancies. In January of the same year, the Special Placements Section for British Columbia had 1,200 registrants, and found jobs for 64. This is a placement record of one in twenty. Unemployment Insurance was collected by 1,200 Vancouver persons in December 1959, at the same time that 5,000 unemployed received half a million dollars in Social Assistance. The Salvation Army, in 1959, gave Vancouver's unemployed men 167,466 free meals and 13,427 free nights lodging. The Francescan Sisters of Vancouver gave out sandwiches to 300 men each day at 4 o'clock. Of the 100 persons registered with the Epilepsy Centre, over 50 were seeking work. Of 36 new cases opened with the Alcoholism Foundation in January 1960, 28 were unemployed. Eighty per cent of those registered with the John Howard Society had no work. And the vast majority of the addicts asking for help from the Narcotic Addiction Foundation were unemployed. These figures add several dimensions to the simple word "unemployed". The survey of available services, which was the second part of the present study, was made through personal interviews (based on a standard schedule of questions) with officials of all agencies having regular contact with unemployed men. This permitted: (a) a composite picture of the lower-stratum or skid row unemployed man, (b) an assessment of current services, with special reference to work needs. The typical skid row unemployed man is unattached, with few roots in the community. He is usually over 40, (though there is a minority group of younger men) with grade school education, no skill, and an irregular work history. Although registered for employment, he is seldom called for work because he has so little to offer. He receives Social Assistance because he has no savings, and is ineligible for Unemployment Insurance. He usually has some degree of physical disability, which may include a problem with alcohol. He is medically certified as being "capable of light work", but is physically run-down and has lost the habit of regular work. Services presently available include economic maintenance, food, clothing, shelter, registration for employment and counselling: but these are offered in varying amounts by a variety of agencies. They meet the basic needs, but they are not coordinated; and most of all, they do not offer the opportunity to work or alternative training and rehabilitation. The immediate need in Vancouver is for an active central registry of all unemployed, improved communication between the various agencies and services, and the establishment of a central service council to evaluate needs and develop a programme to meet these needs. Comprehensive planning starting from registration, evaluation and training, and ending with job placement, should be the goal: but "sheltered work", for both training and production is the most practical resource. Insufficient attention has been given to successful programmes of sheltered work and rehabilitation courses in other countries. These could usefully be considered for adaptation here: preferably on a national scale.

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