Committee OK's $1.4B spending on emergency services, housing and more

Community groups are calling for the City of Ottawa to go beyond a “no frills” budget for 2021, and to spend more on social services and housing.

18 speakers tell councillors about pressing community needs

Community groups are calling for the City of Ottawa to go beyond a "no frills" budget for 2021, and to spend more on social services and housing. (David Richard/Radio-Canada)

Community groups are calling for the City of Ottawa to go beyond a "no frills" budget for 2021, and to spend more on social services and housing.

Coun. Jenna Sudds, chair of the city's community and protective services committee, described next year's spending plan that way, saying it struck a balance between providing essential services and meeting new needs in the pandemic.

On Thursday, the committee approved $1.4 billion in proposed spending for the many areas it oversees: child care, four long-term care homes, housing and shelters, parks and recreation, paramedics, fire, and bylaw enforcement. Many areas are covered by provincial funding.

As in past years, 18 public delegations shared compelling stories about the pressing needs of vulnerable residents. 

Representatives from the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre described double the calls from people with suicidal thoughts, stressed by money issues, or caring for relatives. They said the Ottawa Police Service's efforts to deal with mental health calls will only work if social services get a financial boost.

Ray Sullivan, with Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, said the city had properly and quickly acted to treat COVID-19 as an emergency, but the city had also declared a housing emergency and needed to do more than the status quo, which includes an extra $15 million for housing in 2021.

"Don't nickel and dime the people with the fewest nickels and dimes," Sullivan said.

Staff and councillors were also asked to consider the plight of Volunteer Ottawa, an organization that matches non-profit organizations with volunteers. It described how its funding dried up and it might not survive.

Child-care advocates called on the city to create more spaces. A group called Period Packs, which advocates for women's access to menstrual products, asked committee to try a one-year pilot project to make menstrual pads more available in the city. 

Recreation greatly affected by COVID-19

Sudds said staff are working hard to meet community needs but need help from other levels of government. 

"There's a lot of uncertainty about what 2021 will look like and I know staff will rise to the occasion," said Sudds. 

The pandemic has created a projected gap of $56.5 million for 2021 for the services that fall under Sudds's committee.

Recreation programs and centres, for instance, have been greatly affected by COVID-19, with various closures and distancing restrictions affecting swim programs to weight rooms.

Next year, the city projects a shortfall of $19 million in recreation revenues, assuming things start to return to normal by spring, with sports fields being rented again and summer camps operating. 

For the winter, meanwhile, recreation staff are coming up with plans to offer drop-in activities at rinks and parks, and to extend trail systems for skiing and snowshoeing.

The budget also includes an extra $16 million for nursing and personal care workers, as well as personal protective equipment, in long-term care homes.

The $70 million in capital spending includes funds for a new fire station in Kanata North, a new community centre in the Deschâtelets building in Old Ottawa East, and a fieldhouse in the new housing development on the former Rockcliffe air base, among other projects.

The budget goes to city council for final approval on Dec. 9.

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