Families fight cuts to program for people with disabilities in Waterloo region
85 people could be affected by funding cut to community-based program, Bridges to Belonging says
A Waterloo region program that helps people with disabilities become involved in the community is facing a funding cut from the province.
Bridges to Belonging executive director Donnamarie Dunk said the organization will lose $240,000 in funding by April 1. It is part of a $3.1 million cut to funding for similar programs across the province.
Dunk said that for the last four years, the program has been connecting youth, adults and seniors with a facilitator who helps them establish and meet goals they have for being involved in their community.
"For some people, they want a home of their own ... For some they want to deepen their relationships. Some want to get involved in volunteering. Some have wanted to go back to school. Some need to develop some life skills," said Dunk.
Affected families launch campaign
Since 2015, provincial funding allowed Bridges to Belonging to provide what they call "independent facilitation" for 85 people. It was part of multi-million dollar funding in Ontario that supported similar groups across the province.
The funding allowed for the agency to hire 11 facilitators in Waterloo region, Dunk said.
A coalition of parents has launched a campaign urging the government to keep the program running. New Hamburg's Gabrielle Thomson said her son Calvin was helped by a facilitator to make the transition from high school to adult life.
"We first met our facilitator when Calvin was still in high school at Ross McDonald School for the Blind," wrote Thomson.
"She shared programs and ideas specific to Calvin and introduced him personally to the people and places."
Thomson said her son has been out of high school for two years and describes his life as rich and fulfilling.
Dunk said the cuts mean some families will have to pick up the support they have been receiving from a facilitator.
"There is Passport funding, and the ministry has referred to that," said Dunk. "It is a very limited amount of money that folks have received. They can purchase their services through fee-for-service, but it is cost prohibitive for most families."
Passport is a funding program offered through the Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. The program's goal is to help adults with developmental disabilities live more independently — specifically through skill-development and community involvement.
Fee-for-service model was already in works, MPP says
Amy Fee is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Kitchener South-Hespeler and is the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.
"This was something … that was not actually formally included in any Liberal budgets going forward, and it was something that even the Liberals were talking to the organizations about — going to a fee-for-service model using Passport funding," said Fee, adding the funds will now be offered through Passport, which has a wait list.
"Families or individuals will still have the $2,500 per year that they can use towards independent facilitation."
Coincidentally, Fee is the former chair of the board for Bridges to Belonging.
"I definitely feel for the people who use the service. I've seen firsthand how amazing independent facilitation can be," she said, adding she has seen the facilitation services give people independence and has also helped their family members who were offering care return to work and become more active in the community themselves.