Bridges shelter seeks $750K loan from Region of Waterloo to help pay off debts

The Bridges emergency shelter in Cambridge is seeking an interest-free loan worth $750,000 from the Region of Waterloo to help them manage accumulated debts. The request will go before the region's community services committee on Tuesday.

Report highlights concerns over shelter's ability to manage finances and govern programs

Regional staff are recommending the region give the Bridges shelter a $750,000 interest-free loan to 'eliminate the projected 2019 operating deficit.' The matter goes before the region's community services committee on Tuesday. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

The Bridges shelter in Cambridge is seeking an interest-free loan worth $750,000 from the Region of Waterloo to help them manage accumulated debts.

In a report released on Friday as part of the agenda for the region's community services committee meeting on Tuesday, staff recommended the region come to an agreement with the Cambridge Shelter Corporation (CSC) for a loan not exceeding $750,000. The interest-free loan would be funded from the region's general operating cash flow, outside of the operating budget for the Bridges. 

Region of Waterloo Coun. Elizabeth Clarke, who is the chair of the region's community services committee, says she can't comment on the specifics of what's happening financially at the Bridges, but the situation at the Bridges comes down to financial choices. 

"It's been a mismatch between revenues and expenses over a period of time," she said in an interview with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo. 

The report highlights that in recent months, there have been concerns with the corporation's ability to "manage the finances and properly govern the programs operated at the Bridges."

This comes on the heels of a change in management at the Cambridge Shelter Corporation, with former executive director, Lynn Perry, leaving her position in May and Anne Tinker, former founding executive director of the Cambridge Shelter Corporation having been recently hired as interim director.

CBC News has reached out to the Cambridge Shelter Corporation for comment.

The report also states that the Bridges has "accumulated significant debt" and the debt has negatively impacted its ability to provide services "contracted by the region." The loan would be used to help manage and stabilize finances, according to the report.

Clarke says the Bridges has been functioning as a multi-service agency and have been delivering services "above and beyond the shelter." 

"It's been delivering drop-in services, as well as some level of addiction services," Clarke said. "It's been doing that, really, without sustainable outside funding." 

She believes that could have contributed to the shelter's financial challenges. She says over the last year, the shelter has been pulling back on the non-mandated services to focus on shelter services. 

Last September, the shelter put out a release mentioning the closure of the addiction services portfolio by May of this year and teaming up with locally funded addiction services agencies. 

Relocation still possible, but not in near future

There has also been talk of the Bridges moving to a new location earlier this year. Clarke says that prospect is still on the table, but is not something for the immediate future. 

"Relocation of a shelter is a very big project. Construction of a shelter is a very big project. It's not something you're going to do in less than a couple of years, conservatively," Clarke said. 

The loan, if approved, would come with terms and conditions, Clarke says.

That includes that the shelter's board would develop a business plan and provide a reporting package to be distributed at CSC board meetings and the board would hold meetings where packages are sent to the board and the region containing the executive director's report for their review, a financial reporting package, and a skills assessment and training plan for thedirectors of the board. 

Clarke says providing loans to providers is not a new concept. She says the region looks at factors like how critical the service is to the community and whether the loan will be repaid.

"This shelter is a crucial service and as a community we need it to continue to operate," Clarke says. 

Regional staff recommends in the report that the interest free loan would be used to eliminate the 2019 operating deficit as well as paying off all outstanding accounts payable and the line of credit. 

Staff also recommended eliminating the existing agreement for the one-year transition partnership pilot, so the shelter could work on supporting the housing and shelter operations.

Any decision made by the community services committee would need to be ratified by regional council before becoming official.

Coun. Elizabeth Clarke, centre, chairs a regional community services committee meeting in this file photo from January 2019. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)


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