Funding for food banks and a transitional program for homeless women are on the current casualty list of new government cutbacks to homelessness prevention programs.
Last year, the province cut about $7 million in homelessness prevention funds, money the city will make up in 2014 by tapping rainy-day reserve funds.
But as of 2015, current plans show no money to contribute to local food banks, and no money for the YWCA’s Transitional Housing Program, said city housing manager Gillian Hendry during an emergency and community services committee meeting Monday.
She hopes that doesn’t mean the end.
“I’m fairly optimistic our councillors will try to find other options,” she said. “I don’t think they have the will to end the funding.”
But at the same time, “I’m very concerned that the amount we’re getting from the province isn’t enough to meet the needs of the people in Hamilton.”
Previously, the province provided $8.75 per social assistance case for discretionary benefits that weren’t health related. There was no cap on health-related benefits. The province combined the two and now gives the city $10 per social assistance case, leaving a shortfall of about $3.8 million in 2013.
Discretionary benefits include funeral costs, dental work, vision care, and adult day care programs, among other services.
Hendry showed councillors Monday how the city could make up the difference in 2014. It can use provincial funding for programs such as domiciliary hostels and emergency shelters.
But it must borrow from dwindling reserves to pay for the YWCA and food bank programs, and in 2015, there will be no money to fund them. It’s also relying on $1.5 million in a one-time provincial grant for its housing stability benefit in 2014.
Hamilton Food Share, a central agency for food banks, uses about $100,000 for its Christmas Hamper program, which serves 32,700 people, said Joanne Santucci, the agency's executive director. The rest is distributed to about 11 local food banks during the summer, when donations drop dramatically. The food banks themselves serve about 17,000 clients per year.
"The system has never been an ongoing door knocker, saying 'Give us funding,'" Santucci said. "This helps during critical moments."
The city money is a small percentage of the overall program, but it's critical, she said.
But Coun. Terry Whitehead said after Monday's meeting that he isn’t sure why the city is paying for food banks anyway.
“I’m not a great supporter of food banks being institutionalized,” he said. “They were never meant to be part of the municipal line budget.”
Discretionary benefits and Hamilton’s homelessness prevention programs took a hit last year when the province merged two pots of money into one, creating a shortfall of about $7 million.