Artist with Down syndrome written off as ‘incapable’ blooms in the Downtown Eastside
Republished under license from Postmedia
Published on: June 29, 2016
Barely three years ago, Teresa Heartchild was written off as “incapable” and banished to an old-age care home to live out the rest of her life in an institutionalized setting.
Today she is a poet and artist with a solo exhibit at Gallery Gachet that runs until Saturday.
“It’s a wonderful testament to her artistic ability,” said sister Franke James. “The artwork is fun and engaging. It expresses her discovery of the Downtown Eastside. It expresses a love of her life.”
It’s a far cry from November 2013 when Pocock, who has Down syndrome, was placed in a nursing home in Toronto against her and her father’s wishes.
James remembers seeing her younger sister “sitting on a single bed with a thin sheet hanging between her and a roommate who cannot walk, talk or feed herself.”
She was only 49, healthy and able-bodied, yet was “surrounded by people whose next stop was the grave,” recalled James, an environmental activist and artist. “She was being robbed of her future. It just broke my heart.”
Pocock had been happily living in a condo with her father. But at 91, he was starting to show early signs of cognitive decline. A family feud erupted over Pocock’s future care.
An assessment by Ontario’s community care access centre — which James said was unlawfully conducted because it went against her sister’s power-of-attorney directives — deemed Pocock incapable of deciding where she wants to live. This despite assertions she did not want to live in a care home and James’s repeated statements Pocock could come live with her and her husband.
Pocock lived in the home for four days until her dad managed to get her out. She moved in with James and James’s husband Billiam. A few months later, the family moved to a condo in Gastown.
Since then, Pocock has thrived. She’s danced in front of the White House, watched a parade in New York, helped collect trash from shorelines, made new friends and, along with James, presented at conferences in Montreal and Prince George.
“The world has opened up for her,” said James. “None of this would have happened if she stayed in a long-term care home.”
Her artistic streak was a recent discovery. After winning a $1,000 arts grant from the Vancouver Foundation, Pocock began working on an illustrated book of poems called Pretty Amazing: How I Found Myself in the Downtown Eastside.
Those works and 18 large illustrations that depict her neighbourhood are on display at the gallery.
James said Pocock’s story is not an isolated case. Thousands of people with developmental disabilities are being placed in inappropriate homes, such as long-term care homes, without the proper supports for them.
An online petition, asking for an apology for Pocock from the Ontario government and the Toronto Community Care Access Centre for what she still refers to as her “danger day,” has collected more than 26,000 signatures.
James said she doesn’t blame her other siblings for what happened to Pocock, saying they couldn’t have put her in a long-term care home if the authorities didn’t enable it.
She recognized their actions and the government actions came from a well-meaning place. “They wanted to ensure Teresa has a safe place, a roof over her head and food in her belly all her life, and it was going to be paid for by the government,” she said.
“But it wasn’t what she wanted. It really shortchanged her and her life.”
Material republished with the express permission of: Vancouver Sun, a division of Postmedia Network Inc.