A man from Steinbach believes he is being discriminated against by EIA because of his mental health disorder.
“I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” states Keith Relke who was abused in the residential school system earlier in his life. “The symptom of my PTSD is outbursts, and Employment and Income Assistance is using those symptoms to say I have a behaviour problem; I’m loud, I’m screaming, it’s unacceptable… but those are just my symptoms, I can’t help it.”
To illustrate his point, Relke compares his disorder to a person who is prone to migraines: no matter how aware of your condition you are, when the headache comes you deal with it and then it goes away, you cannot completely prevent it from taking place. “I am well-versed in coping skills, but outbursts just happen,” he states.
With that in mind, Relke is entirely unimpressed at how he has been treated by the nearby EIA offices in Steinbach and Beausejour, both of which have barred him from accessing their services in person or over the phone because of his unpredictable explosivity. While his outbursts are non-violent, they can appear threatening. From what Relke has been told, he is being turned away because he poses a safety concern to the workers. He submits that this government employee protection plan is misguided.
“This is wrong,” he says. “They shouldn’t be using my disabilities against me like this.”
Relke gets that he can be challenging to work with at times but does not feel that should disqualify him from accessing resources specifically designed to serve people like himself. If EIA offices are intended to help people with mental health struggles who have difficulty keeping their jobs, Relke feels they should be equipped to handle everyone who falls into that category.
Prohibited from communicating with EIA in person, Relke is technically allowed a third-party liaison to speak on his behalf. Because of COVID-19, however, no such person exists in his life right now. "I have no one in my bubble," he explains.
Aware of his precarious situation, the staff at Steinbach Community Outreach has been doing what they can for Relke.
“It is difficult to work with people who have certain mental health disorders,” admits Executive Director Irene Kroeker. “[Symptoms] come out during stressful times and when they go into the office, they are there for stressful reasons, and things can sometimes go wrong, it is very unfortunate.”
Without laying the blame on any specific EIA centre, Kroeker acknowledges some of Relke's frustrations.
“We have no issues with EIA, we have issues with the larger system and the policies in place,” she explains. “I would love to see our Manitoba government look at EIA and start revamping some of their rules. Those rules come from above, they get filtered down, and do not always meet the needs of the people we are working with.”
Kroeker says Outreach has a very close relationship with EIA. She commends the staff there for being caring and easy to work with and expects Relke’s negative experience is fairly isolated. Still, she is sorry to see him facing this hardship that, in many ways, seems unfair.
Recognizing that certain government policies are preventing Relke from getting the help he needs Kroeker and her team are trying to fill in the gaps as best they can.
A spokesperson for Employment and Income Assistance says they cannot provide comment on this matter as speaking to an individual’s case or dealings with the government is considered a breach of privacy.