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A group of Ottawa behavioural counselors and therapists are stepping up their campaign to keep the Ontario government from shutting down Ottawa Valley Autistic Homes (OVAH).

About three dozen members of CUPE 2862, along with their supporters, rallied in front of a Conservative MPPs constituency office on Monday, July 7. The workers found out three months ago that the six homes they run, as well as a day program, are slated for closure on September 30. Eighty workers are affected by the decision, as well as 26 group home residents.

There was no warning and no attempt at reconciliation, says Jennifer Byrd, a behavioural counselor for the last four years. There was no sitting down with the union and the staff.

The government announced the cut after an operational review cited mismanagement at OVAH. The board of directors resigned, and the executive director was fired. But Gloria Anderson, the mother of a man in the day program, says the staff is excellent. If the feeling is that OVAH was badly managed, the response shouldnt be to close the agency, it should be to change management, says Anderson. Its like theyre throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

I would understand if there was something wrong with the service we provide, says Byrd. But there isnt.

Another parent, Paul Bunville, says OVAHs clients will be deeply traumatized by the cut. His 34-year-old daughter, Michelle, has been living in one of the group homes for 25 years. The people who live in the homes are like brothers and sisters, says Bunville. They depend on each other, they love each other.

He says the residents also depend heavily on their behavioural counselors and therapists. I never have to worry about Michelle in their hands, he says. Next to God, thats the hands shes in.

Its not certain what will happen with OVAHs clients if the government succeeds in cutting the program. Recently, two were moved to a downtown Ottawa hotel with one days notice. The workers also dont know what theyll do. But Byrd says thats not their #1 concern. We have choices, we have options, she says. But most of our clients dont have that. Most of our staff is more concerned about the clients.

As part of the rally, the workers and their supporters tried to visit the office of John Baird, Minister of Energy in Ernie Eves Conservative government. Despite the fact that Bairds office is normally open on Mondays, and despite the fact that his website says My constituency office is here to serve you, the office doors were locked when workers tried to deliver a stack of petitions.

If youre in Ontario, please send a message encouraging the government to keep the Ottawa Valley Autistic Homes open.