Alberta urged to halt erosion of social services

A coalition of nine Alberta non-profit agencies has called on the province to step up with funding to fix what they're calling a crumbling social infrastructure.

A coalition of Alberta non-profit agencies has called on the provincial government to step up with funding to fix what they're calling a crumbling social infrastructure.

The groups, which help people with disabilities and families in crisis, told a news conference in Edmonton on Wednesday they need more than $100 million to keep staff in Alberta's overheated economy and to prevent what they see as a potentially dangerous erosion in services.

They also want the provincial government to come up with a three-year plan to overhaul social policies, determine priorities and fix what they see as the crumbling social fabric of Alberta society.

Marjorie Thompson, who has a developmental disability, said she has been affected directly by the erosion of social services. Workers from a non-profit agency come to her home in Whitecourt, Alta. to help her do her paperwork, but many of the workers have quit due to low pay.

"They're like, 'If I can get a job at McDonald's for 13 bucks and hour, why am I working here? Staff have told us that they enjoy the job but they're not getting paid to support their own families," said Thompson, 35. "We lose staff we really love."

Non-profit groups say underfunding and low wages in their sector is hurting both workers and people who need their services.

Stress levels soaring

Bob Greig, president of the Alberta Council of Disability Services, said stress levels are soaring because of a lack of skilled staff and limited access to services.

The 129 organizations his association representsare feeling the crunch, Greig said.

"Approximately 50 per cent of staff within our organizations earn less than $30,000 per year, which often requires them to work at more than one job to support their families," he said.

Staff turnover averages 40 per cent, and rises as high as 70 per cent for organizations working in northern Alberta, Greig added.

Shelters struggling

Women's shelters are also struggling, and say they've been forced to turn away 27,000 women and children this year because of underfunding. Last year, Alberta's women's shelters received about $21 million in funding, with provisions for a 3.5 per cent pay raise.

Jan Reimer, provincial co-ordinator of the Alberta Council of Women's Shelters, said they need double that to meet the demand for services and retain skilled staff.

"At one shelter, three summer students left this summer because they could get higher wages than the shelter's full-time experienced counsellors," Reimer said.

"Another shelter has lost 55 per cent of its staff this summer and another shelter manager reports that her staff left to get double their salary at the local health authority," she added.

"How can anyone realistically expect shelters to compete in today's Alberta?"