A friend posted on Facebook this morning: “Everyone take a deep breath……remember the big picture……we are healthy. Stay safe and loving.” ️
We have passed the 100 day mark. We remain healthy due to the hard work of many in Grey Bruce. But just as we have become comfortable with lockdown rules we now start to open up public settings and this brings more questions and concerns; and new protocols.
As we re-open public settings, it is more difficult to maintain physical distance at all times. The Grey Bruce Health Unit has announced that we shall be moving to mandatory masks in indoor public spaces when the Province moves to Stage 3 on July 17th. During a Housing Action Group meeting last week it was felt that we all need to normalize the use of masks and change our language around social distancing. We need to be “physically distanced but socially connected”.
- The Grey Bruce Health Unit has released FAQ for Wearing Masks and Face Coverings to provide guidance on this new protocol.
Organizations and businesses in Grey and Bruce Counties may be able to provide masks for no cost based on donations.
- For example, Bruce Power has donated 120,000 one-time masks to local organizations including Chambers of Commerce and Community Food Programs to ensure organizations can stay open or re-open.
- In addition, over July and August, the company will distribute 30,000 re-usable masks through all employees, pensioners and a range of community organizations to support the need for masks in the community.
- Bruce Power is also launching a program called ‘Strength in Numbers’ where it will offer organizations its bulk buying power so smaller organizations have access to this lower pricing. For organizations that are looking for information on these they can email firstname.lastname@example.org
- To support business-owners, workers and the economic recovery of the province, the Ontario government has launched a website to provide businesses with information on personal protective equipment (PPE) suppliers. The Workplace PPE Supplier Directory has an up-to-date list of Ontario companies and business associations that are ready to supply personal protective equipment.
The COVID-19 crisis has made clear the importance of a robust social safety net; and it has also highlighted its weaknesses. Many people with disabilities have compromised immune systems, and are therefore at higher risk from and have already been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus.
- For these people, physical distancing and other preventative measures will probably be in place for a long time – much longer than for the general population. Further, it is already apparent that people with low incomes have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic. A stable and well-functioning social support system for people with disabilities in financial need will be crucial during and after the crisis.
- A new report by Maytree explores the role of ODSP, the risks of narrowing the definition of disability, models of disability assessment from other jurisdictions, and alternative ways that the government could reform the program. The report recommends that the Ministry focus on improving ODSP’s initial application process. A simplified assessment system would save time and money for applicants, medical professionals, legal clinics, adjudicators, and the Social Benefits Tribunal. These savings should be reinvested back into social assistance.
New funding announcements:
- The Ontario government announced it is providing municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners with an additional $150 million to continue to protect vulnerable people from COVID-19 by improving homeless shelters and creating opportunities for longer-term housing. This investment more than doubles the funding currently flowing to local municipal service managers and urban Indigenous program administrators through the Social Services Relief Fund.
- Municipalities and urban Indigenous community partners will be able to use this funding for long-term, innovative housing solutions resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. They can renovate shelters or purchase new facilities that will help with physical distancing in the short term and support longer-term, more sustainable solutions to homelessness. In addition, this funding could also be used to provide vulnerable people with food, shelter and supplies. This builds on the support being delivered as part of the COVID-19 Action Plan to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians.
- The Federal government distributed to seniors a one-time tax-free payment of $300 for seniors eligible for the Old Age Security (OAS) pension, with an additional $200 for seniors eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) last week.
- The Province is accepting applications for the Seniors Community Grant Program until August 7, 2020. Non-profit organizations, local services boards, and Indigenous groups can apply for grants ranging from $1,000 to $100,000 to develop programming that reduces social isolation, promotes seniors’ safety and well-being, improves financial security and makes communities more age-friendly.
- CERB is being considered income and will impact eligibility for the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors with low-income. It will also impact geared-to-income rental calculations.
- Students who graduated high school in 2020 are eligible for the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit. Make sure to check your eligibility at https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/benefits/emergency-student-benefit/cesb-who-apply.html. Students can apply for previous pay periods by calling the CRA to ensure their information on file is correct and up to date. Students will then call the CERB/CESB line at 1-800-959-2019 or 1-800-959-2041 to apply.
- For those students receiving Employment Insurance (EI), if you receive a COVID-19 related grant, this should be reported on your EI report on question 6. You need to then call 1-800-206-7218 (EI line) to tell an agent that it is grant money. The grant should not affect the amount of EI payment that is being received. Call from a landline if possible, as wait times can be significant.
CHILDCARE SUPPORTSWe know that a critical aspect of re-opening and returning to work is childcare for working parents.
- A new paper and policy brief by First Policy Response makes the case for child care’s role in recovery, arguing that the future of our labour force rests on building accessible, affordable childcare.
- Several local news articles interview local child care providers on the challenges with re-opening. There is a great appreciation expressed but for those child care providers currently operating. Local providers are experiencing low registration now and must maintain low ratios (8 children: 2 adults). Calls for a stabilization plan for childcare is being asked of the government to ensure the viability of childcare centres.
- Parents are directed to register with One List Bruce County or One List Grey County.
- A new report from the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network explores evidence on the unique causes, consequences, and experiences of homelessness and housing precarity for this group.
- The Women’s Centre Grey Bruce is still running at 50% capacity to ensure physical distancing and all new residents must quarantine. 15 families are being housed. However, off site housing in motels and second stage housing is being used.
- The Welcome Centre in Owen Sound is now closed. An average of 8 people were participating on a regular basis. People were able to socialize and access services but still stay physically distanced.
- YMCA Housing provided 676 nights of emergency shelter to 73 individuals; provided 938 meals and distributed 12 phones in June. In July, they started working with 32 HHs. They are working with complex cases, very low vacancy rates across Grey Bruce and are supporting some people to return to their home communities. Support to various tent encampments, upon request.
- CMHA Housing Connections currently have 125 people waiting for housing and support; 25 people waiting for Portable Housing Benefit. They are resuming group support services in Owen Sound and Hanover with smaller than normal groups.
- Tenant education continues to ensure that tenants keep numbers low who are visiting or staying with them. Better security at street entrances and dealing with a large number of visitors to buildings is something to address with partners and landlords.
- Having access to safe, affordable and decent housing is the backbone of a COVID-19 response & recovery. The federal government’s National Housing Strategy, developed and implemented in a pre-COVID-19 scenario will need to be revisited to account for the pandemic. There is still a need for more funding for a Housing First model to be in place for people who have experienced homelessness. It takes people at least 3 years to feel safe and living in a ‘home”. We are challenged in Grey Bruce to have support staff in place to provide long-term support across a wide geographic area and low tenancy turnover/vacancies.
- The Protecting Tenants and Strengthening Community Housing Act (Bill 184) has passed second reading at Queen’s Park and is now before a legislative committee. The Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario has published a statement on why it is the Wrong Bill at the Wrong Time stating that this will allow for more evictions. Advocates for landlords state that it does not go far enough for them to collect payments.
- The Senate of Canada has released its Interim Observations on the Federal government’s Pandemic Response. They heard evidence that the impact of COVID-19 is not the same in urban areas as it is in rural areas. Members were told that closures of some services and delayed reopening in certain jurisdictions are more difficult on vulnerable population groups in rural areas than in more populated regions, and that lack of equitable access to high-speed Internet is a barrier to accessing health, education and social supports during this pandemic.
- Equitable access to high-speed internet has been raised locally in almost all our Poverty Task Force action groups, at the Grey Bruce Children’s Alliance table and other working tables. In one critical response, local school boards have left laptops/chrome books with families over the summer in anticipation of the need for online access now and when school resumes.
- The Ontario government has announced $150 million to expand access to reliable broadband and cellular service in underserved and unserved parts of the province under the Improving Connectivity for Ontario program (ICON). The Province is investing in the Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT) project to bring high-speed broadband to 50,000 more homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario.
- Grey Bruce employment support service organizations (YMCA, VPI, and 4 County Labour Market Planning Board) recently reported that online training is popular and well attended with high retention rates under COVID19. Online training has overcome the usual transportation barrier with in-person training. MP Alex Ruff writes “affordable, ready and fast access to the internet is becoming as important to Canadians as access to electricity.”
- The Community Food Program List has been updated.
- Community garden programs are in full production. Meaford Community Gardens are distributing fresh produce on food bank days of Golden Town Outreach, carrying out garden classes with reduced numbers of youth in the gardens and received a Tree Canada grant to develop an edible forest. Under COVID19 Stage 2, community gardens have not been able to bring together people to community kitchens.
- YUM program out of South East Grey CHC served 525 meals in June.
- St. Aidan’s Frozen Meal program is averaging 700 meals per month.
- Lucknow Good Food Box distribution 185 boxes in July and are still scheduled for August.
- Kasper Transportation will be resuming its bus schedule from Owen Sound to Guelph by July 20th, 2020.
Stay well, Jill