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Mayor wishes city had found $230K to save Notre Dame youth centre

City council voted again on Wednesday not to give Good Shepherd Centres $230,000 for its Notre Dame resource centre for street-involved youth. And the mayor isn't happy about it.

Good Shepherd says it will now decide if it can save all of its programs

Good Shepherd says its Notre Dame resource centre for street-involved youth is in danger of closure now that the city has turned down a request for $230,000 more. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

No other city councillors agreed with him, but Hamilton's mayor says he wanted to see the city come up with some extra money to save Good Shepherd's Notre Dame House centre for street-involved youth from closing.

City council voted again Wednesday to turn down a request from the charity for $230,000 by year's end. It already gives the centre $950,000 per year, councillors said, and it can't afford to give more.

I'm not happy about it.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Mayor Fred Eisenberger was the lone voice on it, saying he wanted to see if the city could find the money. The request came at time of heightened attention on youth and gang violence in Hamilton, with Good Shepherd saying the home offers an alternative for youth tempted to enter that lifestyle. Earlier this year, Eisenberger struck a roundtable on youth violence, bringing organizations such as Good Shepherd together in response to a number of violent incidents

At Wednesday's meeting, he said no one agreed with offering the additional $230,000 on Wednesday, so he didn't push it.

"I'm not happy about it," he said. "I'm not happy about the circumstance, quite frankly. I'm not sure the city's been the cause of this but it's something that I would like our staff to address one way or another."

Eisenberger says discussing it at budget time in the spring — the current plan — is "better than nothing."

"It was a unanimous vote to move on and I was pretty sure that was going to happen," he said of Wednesday's meeting.  "There's not much point wasting time on things you're not going to win." But with his speech, "I think I've made the point that this is a program that's worthy for the youth in our community."

Good Shepherd gets city funding for various services, including its adult, family and youth shelters. Some of that money is provincial dollars from the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative (CHPI).

We now have to decide how much of the program is going to close.- Brother Richard MacPhee, Good Shepherd Centres

The city gives Good Shepherd $750,000 per year for Notre Dame's youth centre and its 20-bed shelter. Since 2006, it's also provided another $200,000 per year in "one-time" funding. It gave another $230,000 last year from a budget surplus to make up for a shortfall caused, in part, by a lack of donations designated to youth homelessness. But that budget is already running $230,000 short this year, said Joe-Anne Priel, general manager of community services.

Six programs got one-time funding last year, said Gillian Hendry, the city's director of housing and homelessness. And none of them are getting that money this year.

But Good Shepherd says without the money — which it's been talking to the city about for months — it can't keep the centre that provides meals, recreational and therapeutic programming, and access to mental health, addictions and healthcare professionals, among other services.

"We now have to decide how much of the program is going to close," said Brother Richard MacPhee, Good Shepherd's executive director.

City victimized by province and feds, Merulla says

Good Shepherd also says that the city put the request on hold, saying it would do a review of Hamilton youth programs. A year later, the city hasn't done it. Hendry said Wednesday that the review will be ready by late 2016.

Councillors were sympathetic with MacPhee. But voting for the money, said Coun. Sam Merulla, will continue to let the provincial and federal governments "victimize" the city by burdening it with programs outside of its purview.

Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3 said everyone agrees that the Notre Dame service is valuable. But so are a lot of other programs, he said, and "money is tight."

The Good Shepherd board will meet soon to discuss what to do about the shortfall, MacPhee said. 

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