It’s been a big week for the South Australian Deaf Community. They received an offer to save their beloved 262 building. This building is their second home; if they lose it they have nothing. They received an offer from a Community Housing group to take over the maintenance of the building and also rebuild the Deaf centre. What the Community Housing Group would want in return is to build apartments on the vacant land at the back of 262 for profit. 262 would remain in the hands of Deaf Can Do and the Deaf community could still use it as their home.
To the Deaf community it seemed like a win win. But the management of Deaf Can Do, in reality the Board of Townsend House, rejected the offer. To be fair on them they made an effort through a letter to the community to explicitly explain their reasons. However, their reasons do not really make a lot of sense.
The bottom line is Deaf Can Do are in a bad way. Money that is being raised through fundraising, businesses and government grants is not covering the cost of managing Deaf Can Do. Townsend House, in an effort to keep Deaf Can Do afloat, have lent a lot of money to the Deaf Can Do entity. Understandably they want that money back.
Judy Curran, CEO of Townsend House, in her letter to the community explained that they felt that the Community Housing proposal would not make enough money to cover the losses that Townsend House has made. Further she explained that the money raised was not enough to keep Deaf Can Do open. Under Corporate Law, argues Ms. Curran, the management of Deaf Can Do must do all they can to save the business and its services. They also must do all they can to keep Deaf Can Do afloat so that those Deaf in ‘NEED’ can continue to receive services.
One can empathise with the dilemma that the management of Deaf Can Do are facing. Firstly they want to keep Deaf Can Do running for the Deaf in ‘NEED’ and secondly they want to get back the money they have invested to keep Deaf Can Do afloat.
Let’s be honest here, Townsend House did not really loan money to Deaf Can Do. In every sense of the word the management arrangement that they have for Deaf Can Do puts them in full control. One could argue that they actually OWN Deaf Can Do, including its last asset 262. It is hard to understand how they could loan Deaf Can Do any money because Deaf Can Do is actually THEM. It comes under the Can Do group of companies and services that Townsend House manages. What they have done is invest in Deaf Can Do hoping that it would come good. It hasn’t, its gone arse up to put it bluntly.
Ok they have invested in an entity and they have not seen the return that they had wished for. Understandably they want to cut their losses and even recoup the investment that they have made. The logic of Townsend House is that to do this they have to sell what is probably the last viable asset of the Deaf Can Do business. They will sell 262. They will then, presumably, take back what they are owed. Then they will give what’s left to the Deaf Can Do arm of their franchise hoping that it will remain afloat.
This is where their business reasoning becomes perplexing. It’s perplexing because they already know that keeping Deaf Can Do alive is like flogging a dead horse. The money raised from the sale of 262 will keep the Deaf Can Do arm of their Can Do franchise running for a year or two more and then it will keel over. It will be finished. Townsend House will not want to invest any more money in Deaf Can Do and they will have to let it die. After 262 is sold that will be the end of the last asset that can keep Deaf Can Do afloat. Once it is gone there is nothing and the real losers are the Deaf community.
The smart thing to do is to let Deaf Can Do die. Let it go. Townsend House, if they so wish, can keep the profitable parts of the franchise, perhaps the audiology business and perhaps the interpreting business. They can let Deaf Can Do go and still keep 262 for the Deaf community. But how?
Well firstly they need to follow one of their arguments for retaining Deaf Can Do and selling 262; namely the commitment to support the Deaf who are in NEED. If they are really serious about this they will see that 262 is the single most important thing needed by Deaf people. Without it they have nowhere to go. They have nowhere to meet. They have nowhere to socialize. They will have no sense of pride. The end result of this is a disenfranchised people who will then become lonely and isolated and who will be prey to any number of mental health issues that are associated with isolation and loneliness.
If you want to destroy a community and culture and see the consequences look no further than the Aboriginal community. This is exactly what happened to them. Their community and cultural structure, so important to their sense of identity and purpose, was ripped from under them. We all know the result of that. There is a reason why so many Aboriginal people die earlier and have drug and alcohol problems. It is largely because their community and culture was virtually destroyed. It is only now that they are starting to slowly claw it back and rebuild their culture and identity.
So if Townsend house want to ensure that Deaf people in NEED get support, 262 is the single most important decision they will make. Arguably Deaf Can Do is not needed. Let it go. Save 262. Accept the Community Housing proposal. The proposal might take time to take off but it will at least retain an asset that over time will continue to appreciate in value. And it will cost Townsend House nothing!
But to sell 262 and channel the profits to Deaf Can Do is to throw good money after bad. It will only stall the inevitable. Let Deaf Can Do go. Wrap it up and save 262 so that it can remain as the spiritual and community home of the Deaf community. Townsend House will get the money they invested in Deaf Can Do back a little slower but it will mean 262 can remain a viable asset that will appreciate in value for them and the Deaf community.
Losing 262 will destroy a community. Losing Deaf Can Do will be sad but arguably it is the lesser of two evils. There is another way. Think about it!