Social services funding a matter of life and death, committee told

Many of the more than 40 public delegations signed up to speak to the community and protective services committee Thursday are looking for funding for social agencies and cultural groups that are having trouble accessing city money for new initiatives.

Council considering unique $100K deal to fund social agencies

Diane Urquhart of Social Planning Council of Ottawa offered $100,000 of its own money for new on-ramp funding for one year, as long as the city matches that amount. (Laura Osman/CBC )

Dianne Urquhart didn't come to the community and protective services committee on Thursday with a plan to donate $100,000 of her organization's money to the city.

But when she heard the plight of small service agencies struggling to find small amount of core funding, she made the unusual offer on behalf of the Social Planning Council of Ottawa, a support agency that supports social service organizations. 

There's only one catch: she wants the city to match the funds. 

"Let's grow this fund," Urquhart said. "I hope you'll take me up on it."

More than 40 public delegations spoke to the  committee about the 2018 budget, many of them seeking funding for new social agencies and cultural groups that are having trouble accessing city money for new initiatives.

While the city funds about 93 social agencies, many groups providing social and cultural services receive no funding. One of those is Operation Come Home, which does get money for housing, but none for its operating costs.

Need is life or death

Youth are dying due to long wait times for treatment.- Elspeth McKay, Operation Come Home

"There are predators lurking in Centretown luring young people into the drug trade," Elspeth McKay of Operation Come Home told the committee, accompanied by Bank Street BIA executive director Christine Leadman, herself a former city councillor.

"Youth are dying due to long wait times for treatment," said McKay.

She said that four of her clients died this year, three from suicide and one from an overdose only a few weeks ago.

McKay said her organization has one staff member for every 25 youths. Even $20,000 would reduce the the ratio of workers to youth, so that staff could be more than "just security guards."

Dragon's Den Deal

McKay called on the committee to allocate $250,000 to social agencies that do not receive renewable funding. ​However, that new money is unlikely unless council takes Urquhart's deal.

"This year there is no on-ramp funding," said Janice Burelle, general manager of community and social services, adding that funding for new organizations ended in 2012.

Burelle said the city is in discussions with various groups and is analyzing the "emerging needs in the community," but those talks are outside this year's budget discussions. 

While Urquhart's offer is one time only, it would allow the city to issue micro-grants to tide agencies over until that review is complete. 

Councillors asked staff to look at potential sources of funding in the draft budget to match the funds. Coun. Tobi Nussbaum said the money should be easy to find, it's only 0.01 per cent of the community and protective services committee budget. 

Committee chair Coun. Diane Deans said she felt like she was on Dragon's Den television show when the organization made the offer. 

"I'll take that deal," she said. 

Problem is 'core' funding

Groups providing services ranging from groomed cross-country ski trails in the east end to a laundry co-op that provides affordable cleaning services — including dealing with bed bugs — told the committee they're struggle to raise enough funding to pay for day-to-day operations.

"Nobody wants to pay for the core," said Anouk Bertner, executive director of ECO Equitable. 

The small non-profit runs a sewing program that helps newcomers integrate into society, and even makes money by making and selling promotional items like cloth grocery bags. While the group is relatively successful at raising money for equipment or special projects, it's difficult to solicit donation for such pedestrian needs as rent and staff wages.

Not enough affordable housing: critics

A number of groups spoke about the need for more affordable housing, including the Alliance to End Homelessness.

The alliance criticized the city for moving — for the fourth consecutive year — $4 million from the capital budget to operations, especially since the city built only 52 new social housing units in 2016, according to the alliance.

Ray Sullivan, executive director of Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corp., which owns and rents 1,600 affordable-housing units, expressed skepticism about the mayor's pledge to keep the tax increase to 2 per cent to keep life more affordable.

"Affordable for whom?" said Sullivan. "Says city is being kept more affordable for homeowners and less affordable for the most vulnerable.

"I'm a homeowner. Please increase my taxes."

Elspeth McKay of Operation Come Home gets no city money for its operations. Four of the group's young clients died this year. (Joanne Chianello/CBC)

"I ask the city to consider a property tax increase of one per cent, a small fix to a large-scale problem," Euphrasie Emedi of the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre said.

A one per cent tax increase would raise about $15 million for housing, but is unlikely to win favour among councillors who appear attached to Mayor Jim Watson's promise to hold the entire tax increases to just two per cent.

Less money for long-term care, more for child care

The 2018 draft budget for CPS calls for an increase of $13.9 million over last year's budget for a total of $567.5 million. While the CPS budget is the single-largest chunk of the city's $3.4-billion operating budget, more than half of that total goes to funding fire and paramedic services. 

This budget includes money for hiring an additional 14 paramedics, bringing the total of new paramedics added to 50.

When the draft budget was released last month, the decrease in funding for city-run long-term care homes raised some eyebrows. Although the budget calls for an additional $1.7 million for the homes over what was budgeted last year, the total of $65.8 million is actually less than the city actually expects to spend in 2017.

The plan to decrease real spending is surprising given the controversy over the deplorable treatment of a few patients at some of the long-term care homes, which led city officials to launch a third-party investigation into how the homes are run.

The committee heard there are 2,310 individuals on the waiting list for the city's four homes, although there may be some duplication as some people put their names down for more than location. Staff said there's a two-year wait time for a bed.

One area that will see more money in 2018 is child care, which is getting a $31.3-million boost in funding, as well as 28 new full-time positions. All of that funding is coming from the province, which should significantly reduce the current wait list for subsidized child care from 1,500 to 1,400.