The saga of 262 continues to rumble over in South Australia. The Deaf community there continue to fight tooth and nail for what is the last asset that their community has. There is a Save 262 Facebook page that reminds everyone that 262 was built largely through the efforts of Deaf people who worked hard to raise the funds to build 262. Morally the building belongs to them. Legally it belongs to Townsend House who control the title and deed. Please don’t tell me it belongs to Deaf Can Do. The reality is that Deaf Can do is nothing but a trade name under the Can Do group of services and companies administered by Townsend House. The final decision of 262 and Deaf Can Do lies with the gang of 8 who are the Townsend House Board.
To the credit of Townsend House they are communicating openly with the Deaf community. They are transparently putting forward their reasons for needing to sell 262. While we may not agree with their reasons or their methods, credit where it is due, they are engaging with the community. This includes using an Auslan interpreter for a video communication.
However, their reasons still do not stand up to scrutiny. Their most recent communication was by video on June 5th. This article will challenge some of the arguments that Townsend House have put forward.
Argument One – Since 1985 it has been a struggle to find the money to keep 262 Open.
This is true but it is not the building alone that is at the centre of this issue. Part of the problem is also how Disability services in South Australia were restructured in the early 90s. Originally the Old Deaf Society received Government funding to run case work and case management services. This changed in the early to mid 90s when the South Australian Government set up the “ONE STOP SHOP” Options Coordination services. This meant that the old Deaf Society lost a lot of its funding. Arguably the services they currently provide have been unviable for a number of years and it is these services that are swallowing money rather than the building itself. Rather than see 262 as the reason and the answer perhaps tough decisions need to be made about the viability of the current service model of Deaf Can Do. Is it time to close it?
Argument 2 – Although we did not really want to, the Board decided that it had to sell the building so that the Deaf Society could continue to provide interpreting and Community Services.
Now Townsend House have said that if Deaf Can Do closes the Deaf community will lose vital services like free interpreting for certain community services and the like. This does not need to be the case. Interpreting services could easily be incorporated into Townsend House. Indeed interpreting services make money. It is true there have been a number of independent interpreting providers that have come on to the market. This has provided the current Deaf Can Do interpreting services with competition. Understandably this would have also impacted on revenue. They no longer have a stranglehold on the market. This said, arguably, interpreting services still do not operate at a loss.
The Deaf community themselves need to ask themselves whether they would want free community interpreting over the loss of their building. Today Governments and educational institutions are increasingly accepting the cost of interpreting. NABS provides free interpreting for GPs and private appointments. Public health providers that refuse to provide interpreting run the risk of being slugged with a DDA complaint. The playing field has now changed. Perhaps it is time to look at FREE community interpreting in a different light given recent developments in the funding of interpreting.
As far as services go perhaps the Deaf Can Do business model is actually duplicating what is already out there. How much of the current services are viable, needed or already being provided by the case management services that are based at the Guide Dogs and funded by Disability Services South Australia? Perhaps the hard thing to do is to really look at scrapping some services that might now be outdated and ineffective.
There was mention that the audiology service, Can Do Hearing, has not made the profit expected. Perhaps the hard question to ask is; is this service actually needed? Is the return that is being received worth the investment? Is the audiology and hearing services market already over saturated? I do not know the financial return from the audiology business but if it is not making the returns expected, perhaps it simply is not viable.
Perhaps these are the decisions that need to be made rather than blaming losses on 262. It’s puzzling why Townsend House have continued to invest money in a business model that increasingly is looking unviable.
Argument 3 – In May last year DCD Board offered to gift the building to DSRSA if the accountants could work out that DSRSA could afford to pay the cost to run the building. – It worked out that DSRSA could not afford to pay to run the building …
This was always a no brainer. Deaf Sport Recreation South Australia (DSRSA) is a small community group that gets virtually no Government money and has minimal if any viable assets. It was never ever going to be able to afford the upkeep of the building alone. 262 could have been gifted so that DSRSA could decide what to do with it independently. They may have decided to sell anyway and use the profits to establish the Deaf community centre so that they were independent of groups like Townsend House. The conditions that Townsend House placed on the GIFT, which included that DSRSA could not set up services in competition with Townsend House, always meant that the GIFT was never a serious option.
Townsend House really needs to stop insulting our intelligence by constantly reminding the Deaf community of the GIFT. It was never a serious or viable option!
Argument 4 – So the working group looked at a number of other options. One option was to sell the land at the back of the building and spend a lot of that money on the building so that the community could use it. When the architects and building engineers worked out how much was needed to be spent on the building, it was clear that option would not work because there was not enough money to do that. The other two options mean that the whole property at 262 would be sold.
Of course we know that a 4th Option has been offered where a Community Housing group has agreed to take over the maintenance of the building, the building can remain with Townsend House. The Deaf Centre out the back can be redeveloped for the Deaf community. This will allow the building to be used by the Deaf community and it will also mean the building remains as an asset that will continue to appreciate. It appears this option will cost Townsend House nothing. The deal means that the Housing Group will develop other parts of the property into apartments at profit. In five years it is estimated around $1 million will be generated. This $1 million would go to Townsend House.
The 4th option was rejected. It seems it was rejected because it would not immediately generate the cash that Townsend House invested in to Deaf Can Do services. Townsend House wants to recoup this money as soon as possible. It also wants to reinvest some of the profits of 262 back into the Deaf Can Do services.
It’s been a bad investment. They have thrown good money after bad. Arguably the business model of Deaf Can Do is not and will never again be viable. The logic of Townsend House is that they need to sell the last viable asset to save a business model that will never work.
I am sorry it just makes no sense at all. Are these people really business people? Again I have to emphasise – Perhaps it is time to accept that Deaf Can Do is a relic from a bygone era that cannot be saved. Selling 262 to save Deaf Can Do is insane. Or do Townsend House simply want to recoup their wasted investment in Deaf Can Do?
Argument 5 – Management are looking for a place that is not too far out of the city, where there is good public transport and parking and a place large enough for Deaf groups, the Church and sports groups to gather. Deaf Groups have been asked to help look for a place too. The Board is willing to buy a building when 262 is sold and will make sure that Deaf people are able to manage and control the new place themselves if that’s what the Community wants.
Ok, here we at least have a glimmer of light. If Townsend House carries on along the path to sell 262 they will invest money into a new property that will be solely managed and controlled by the Deaf community. Ok if this is to happen let us have specifics.
Ideally Townsend House can outline the percentage of proceeds that they will channel back to the Deaf community. They can outline who will have ownership of the property and potential gains in the appreciation in the value of the new property. Ideally if the 262 building is sold and a new facility is established the new facility will be OWNED, CONTROLLED and MANAGED by the Deaf community.
As it stands this proposal COULD work but detail and specifics are vague. The ideal outcome is that it allows the Deaf community to be fully independent with no restrictions. Ideally it will mean that never again will the Deaf community be at the mercy of an organisation like Townsend House. Ideally it will mean that they can grow and expand EVEN if that means in competition with Townsend House. Ideally it means not just a property but CASH that the Deaf community can invest and grow independently.
If 262 must go, and this is looking increasingly likely, lets ensure that the proceeds can be used to ensure the future and empowerment of the Deaf community in South Australia.
That future might mean 262 is sold and the end of Deaf Can Do. Be it so let’s at least ensure the Deaf community have a destiny that is their own to map out and control.