With a lack of government funding for social services over the past few years, combined with COVID-19 expenses, Peterborough’s social services division is asking Peterborough County council to increase its contribution to the division by close to two per cent in its 2022 budget.
“There have been a number of budgetary impacts related to provincial funding changes and municipal pressures, as well as the ever-evolving COVID-19 responses, that help us support vulnerable individuals in the community,” said Ellen Armstrong, the city’s social services division manager in a report to council Wednesday at its regular meeting.
The city and county share funding of the municipal portion of social services costs with the city paying the majority of costs.
The total budget for the division is almost $87 million and the requested county share is $7.8 million.
Armstrong said that since 2018, provincial funding for program administration for most social services programs has been frozen or reduced, while municipal costs have increased.
“We have not seen an increase in the homelessness budget for some time … and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing funding decreased this year as well, for housing,” Armstrong said.
“As we know, housing insecurity is traumatic to all people, and especially with individuals with mental health and addiction illness with nowhere to turn,” said Karl Moher, deputy mayor of Douro-Dummer Township.
“Has the federal or provincial funding for housing for low-income individuals seen any increase in programs to our community since the inception of the national housing strategy?”
In response, she said there is a Canada-Ontario housing benefit, which came out of the national housing strategy.
“I think the type of housing you’re asking about is the housing for complex individuals with multiple, multiple morbidities and we have not seen any engagement from the province or the federal government around that,” Armstrong said.
“Our numbers show the most urgent need in our communities is for permanent supportive housing. We can work toward building the bricks and mortar, but that requires 24/7 support and that is not something we’ve seen any increases locally on.”
But there are some good things happening around homelessness, she reported.
“I know they’re not probably happening fast enough for people. But there have been 239 shifts from homelessness to housing in 2021 and 33 per cent of these shifts were from chronic homelessness,” she said.
Armstrong said there will be a new approach to the way social assistance will be administered over the next five years called “life stabilization” based on the social determinants of health — away from concentrating on eligibility for social assistance toward helping people create an action plan. It will also mean collaborative support for people with mental health or addictions’ needs.
“This is a fundamentally different way of delivering social assistance. We’re excited about the changes,” she said.
For the third year, there have been provincial adjustments to the children’s services administration funding, another part of the social services division, notes the report In 2022, the budget for allowable administration costs were capped at five per cent. The normal standard is 10.
When asked about the possibility of a national child care strategy being approved in Ontario, Armstrong said, “We’re excited about the thought of a national strategy. We know there’s a negotiation going on with the province and the federal government. As you’re aware, good quality child care is an economic driver, and it’s really important.”
A parent could see a decrease of $50 a day to $10 for licensed child care, she said.
County council referred the report to its draft 2022 budget deliberations.
Brendan Burke is a staff reporter at the Examiner. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him at email@example.com.
Brendan Burke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Peterborough Examiner