The city’s community and protective services committee passed a 2019 draft budget Thursday that prompted numerous delegates from local social service organizations to come forward and ask for more funding to meet increasing demand for mental health services, emergency shelter and the other community programming they provide.
Again and again, delegates who spoke before the committee offered examples and statistics to demonstrate their need for increased support in 2019.
“Centretown is becoming a place where we are witnessing more and more people walking the streets who are unwell and behaving erratically due to a toxic mix of childhood trauma, mental health issues and contaminated drugs on the street,” said Shawn Barber, speaking on behalf of the Centretown Community Health Centre. “Our community health centres are on the front line and deal day in and day out with a lack of adequate funding.
“Additional social investment is required at the community level so our more vulnerable residents are supported and our neighbourhoods remain places where individuals and families can feel safe.”
His organization is one of almost 90 not-for-profits and charities that were budgeted to receive a combined renewable funding investment of $24.2 million in 2019 — up $465,000 from 2018, thanks to a two per cent cost of living increase.
That’s just not enough to meet demand, the committee was told Thursday. Richard Annett, chair of the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, said his organization has seen demand for counselling services increase by more than 50 per cent in the past year, while Chrysalis House, a west Ottawa emergency shelter for women and children fleeing violence, had to turn away 344 women as the shelter was at capacity.
Meanwhile, others who spoke Thursday had to make the case for one-time, non-renewable funding for their organizations, including Operation Come Home, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa and the Canadian Centre for Gender & Sexual Diversity. The city has not added any organizations into its renewable community funding envelope since 2012.
“I’m having a bit of a Groundhog Day moment right now because I’ve been at this committee every year for almost a decade,” said Jeremy Dias, CCGSD director. “I keep on saying that we need an on-ramp to sustainable funding for new organizations.” He calculated that his staff had put out the equivalent of 20 full-time employees in unpaid volunteer hours in the community.
“The unpaid labour that our organization and others are doing is phenomenal, but it’s unsustainable, and, to be honest, organizations like us are just going to give up very soon.”
Elspeth McKay, executive director of homeless youth support centre Operation Come Home — another organization that does without core funding from the city — said that her staff are overwhelmed by the complexity and growth in demand they’re facing from the young people they serve. The past year saw the number of youth accessing OCH programs increase by 15 per cent, she said. They also saw 10 young people die by suicide or as a result of the opioid crisis.
“My staff are afraid, they’re finding it difficult to come to work. So we do urgently need a third person in our resource centre for 2019.”
At the committee meeting, city staff said two different pots of money will be made available this year to community service providers who do not currently qualify for renewable city funding, for a total of $500,000. Groups will be able to apply for this in the coming months, staff said.
A review of the community funding framework is also underway. Staff said they have been working with local social service organizations and collecting feedback for the review, and expect to bring recommendations to councillors before the 2020 budget.
“The review is really an opportunity to take a step back and look at the entire community funding portfolio,” said Clara Freire, a city manager of community and social services.
“The goal of the review is to … look at the existing pot of funding — so the $24 million — and how it can be sustained but also made more flexible to be able to then respond to emerging needs.” Freire said that might include an on-ramp to renewable funding for organizations who aren’t currently receive it, she said, but no decisions have been made yet.
BY THE NUMBERS:
10 – The number of youth that Operation Come Home saw die by suicide or the opioid crisis in 2018
$1 million – The money spent on emergency service calls to two Centretown buildings in one year, according to the Centretown Community Health Centre’s Shawn Barber, who said the neighbourhood’s most vulnerable residents are struggling with complex needs and require more support.
11 – The number of different funders the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa relies on, none of which provide core funding for the organization, which supports criminalized women
50 per cent – The increase in the demand for counselling services through the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre in the past year
$24.2 million – The amount of renewable community funding for social service providers in the 2019 draft budget
$500,000 – The amount of money city staff said would be made available this year to not-for-profits and charities who don’t receive core funding from the city
2012 – The last year the city added a new organizations to the group of nearly 90 who receive renewable community funding