By: Glen Gifford, Manager, Homeless and Outreach Services
“I will eat less. Starve more.” These words came from the mouth of one of our Drop-In participants, after being asked what the impact of a funding cut would mean.
ACSA applied for drop-in funding in response to a Request for Proposals process late in 2014. We received word in late spring. There was good news, and really bad news. The good news: the program would continue to receive funding in October. The really bad news: it would have to operate with a 20% revenue reduction. This translates into $50,000, which may not appear to be a big number, until one considers the costs already being absorbed by the organization. Costs like rent, a wash-and-fold laundry service, and program supplies, among others.
The City advertised an appeals process, which included a $75,000 pot of funds that would be made available to successful cases. ACSA sprung into action, in collaboration with its drop-in participants. A survey was developed and administered, which provided participants with their opportunity to express how they would be impacted by the pending cut. Support letters were received from elected officials, including Councillors Chin Lee, Norm Kelly, and from MPP Soo Wong. Others came from participants themselves, and from partners like Dr. Reverend John Stephenson from St. Timothy’s Anglican Church, and Dr. Maya Maliakkal, our primary care physician from Inner City Health Associates.
ACSA management met with participants that were interested in attending the deputation. Several expressed interest in speaking at the deputation.
The deputation took place on June 5th. We had all of five minutes to make our case to a panel that included personnel from Metcalfe Foundation, Toronto Employment and Social Services, and United Way Toronto. Four drop-in participants came to show their support, including two who spoke eloquently.
We were armed with raw data and a rationale that spoke of Scarborough’s exclusion from good transportation services, its large geographic space (187.7 square kilometres); the lack of drop-in programs, and the aging client population we serve. The cut, we said, would result in reduced days of service. This would mean that participants would have less access to food, clothing, and it would impact on addressing medical needs.
Ours is one of few drop-ins in Scarborough where people feel welcomed, have access to decent, healthy meals, access to essential street outreach and housing help services to get people off the street and find them permanent affordable decent housing, access to addictions counseling, low-barrier access to primary care physicians and psychiatrists, dental care, foot care clinics, therapeutic art groups, women’s only groups and ongoing housing supports case management. We are one of only three agencies in all of Scarborough that offer drop-in services, and provide the most hours of service.
61% of survey respondents were over the age of 60. At least a dozen were in their seventies, and we have three participants that were each 85 years of age. Oh, and a 92-year old. What does ACSA’s Drop-In mean to them? It’s a community place, where life-long friendships blossom; where isolation becomes inclusion; where a coordinated service system addresses multiple needs in one place. If the 20% cut remains unchanged, we will have to tell people to go somewhere else.
We spoke about our approach being holistic, wrap around, client centred, progressive, intentional, and with a focus towards long term sustainability. This is how ACSA works to ensure long term impactful change happens in Scarborough.
The deputation panel heard presentations from a total of 15 agencies that day. We would have to wait two weeks before hearing the decision.
We found out that our appeal was unsuccessful. In fact, we received $0. This was incredible news, which left us shaking our heads in disbelief. How can this be justifiable? It felt like we were hit by a wrecking ball. Now we had to go and tell the participants this news. They were downcast. Who could blame them? The cut will come into effect on October 1st. This isn’t far from winter. We told them that one thing was certain, that the days of service will be fewer.
Then the City decided to spend $1 million dollars to change signs that post speed limits in school zones. Who can argue about the safety of children in our community? But what about those that are some of the most vulnerable in our society – our homeless and precariously housed participants, many of whom have serious mental and physical health, and addictions issues? What about them?