'We'll have nowhere to go': Special needs adult day program at risk of permanent closure
Tania’s Place wants funding answers in hopes of keeping doors open after COVID-19
An Ajax day program for adults with special needs, which is temporarily closed due to COVID-19, is at risk of shutting down permanently, according to its owner.
Francie Trajkovski said the business will likely have to close if the province doesn't allow families to use specific funding to continue paying fees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If she can't re-open Tania's Place, Trajkovski's afraid more than 100 families will be left without care for their loved ones who have special needs once the pandemic is over.
"I can't live with myself knowing that these families' whole lives will be destroyed," Trajkovski said.
Tania's Place, named after Trajkovski's own daughter with special needs, Tania, opened nearly 16 years ago to serve as a place for those with special needs to go and continue learning after high school. It teaches life skills and helps with work placement as well as runs activities like fitness, drama and art.
Trajkovski said about half of the families have been paying fees out of pocket during the closure, in hopes of helping the business stay open after the pandemic.
"A lot of these people have been laid off," she said. "I just can't live with that."
Kelly MacLean has been paying her fee of about $1,000 per month for her 35-year-old son who has autism.
"I don't want to see this place close down," MacLean said. "This is the only thing he has."
Families want to pay with provincial funding
Trajkovski, MacLean and other families have been trying to get answers from the province about whether they can use Ontario's Passport program to help pay their fees at Tania's Place while it's closed.
Trajkovski said all of the families used the program to pay their fees prior to COVID-19 and would like to continue doing so, but haven't been told whether they'll be reimbursed.
Ontario's Passport program provides money to adults with a developmental disability so they can participate in their communities and to allow their caregivers a break.
The funding can be used for services including classes and recreational programs, support workers' wages, and temporary respite for caregivers while the adults spend time at programs like Tania's Place.
Trajkovski said if families aren't able to use their Passport funding now, it's likely they'll have to close permanently.
"Right now our personal line of credit, the business line of credit is at its max," she said.
She said she's already sent a notice to her landlord saying the business will have to shut down by the end of the month if families can't use Passport funding to pay.
"We just can't afford it."
Trajkovski has had to lay off her seven staff members, including her husband who is the director of operations.
The business is eligible for financial support from the federal government during the pandemic.
"[Adults with special needs] always fall through the cracks," she said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Ontario's Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said the government is making $10 billion available in support for people and businesses through tax credits and deferrals.
"We are actively monitoring the situation and the ministry continues to work with the developmental services sector through this challenging time to see what other measures can be taken to support them and the families they serve," Palmer Lockridge wrote.
'A second family'
MacLean said her son Sean Robins, who is non-verbal, is having a difficult time at home during the pandemic. He usually works out with a trainer, goes to archery and loves to dance. Before Tania's Place temporarily closed, he'd spend every day there it was open — five days a week.
"He's basically stuck," MacLean said.
She said Robins doesn't understand why he can't go out or see his friends at Tania's Place, where he's been a client for 15 years.
"It's like a second family to us."
She said it helps that Trajkovski has been video chatting with Robins and other clients during the pandemic.
"But when I see the look on his face it makes me want to cry because he just wants to be with them."
MacLean said it would be devastating if Tania's Place had to close. She said it'd be too difficult to send the adults to other programs after they've developed a rapport with staff and other clients.
"They need each other," she said, adding there are few similar homes in Durham Region.
If Tania's Place were to close, she's afraid she'd have to quit her job as a teacher to stay home with Robins full time.
"Tania's Place is their only social outlet," she said. "When all this is over everybody else is going to get to their lives. If Tania's Place isn't there we'll have nowhere to go."
- An earlier version of this story stated Tania's Place doesn't qualify for the federal government's emergency business account loan, when in fact it does. It also stated the business paid less than $50,000 in payroll last year, when the number is more than $300,000.Apr 13, 2020 1:10 PM ET