Dear Colleagues, 

So how are we doing in rural communities to stay digitally connected? How fast is your internet is a common question amongst partners who are joining zoom meetings? Are you living in a dead zone or are the gremlins aka your children in the house, slowing you down? Are the gremlins going back to school or staying home? 

Sounds like a horror film? But people continue to work from home, approximately 10% of Grey Bruce students from the two largest school boards remain home and will be online for schooling.  And people need to access more government and medical services online.   

A recent Tamarack Institute Community of Practice group of rural communities in Ontario discussed the “digital divide” in each of our counties. 

1. Examples of how communities have been addressing digital access issues since COVID started:

  • Collecting and redistributing tablets, smartphones and other devices
  • Offering training on how to use tablets and other devices being distributed
  • Looking at shared data plan models
  • Creating lists and maps of free WIFI hot spots in the community
  • Paying for new WIFI hot spots to be established in areas where there were none
  • Keeping WIFI hot spots open at libraries and other community facilities
  • Creating downloadable forms that people can fill out instead of completing forms online
  • Including access to Internet and technology in new community safety and well-being plans

2. Challenges that were highlighted:

  • There is a cap on the number of low-cost internet packages available and there are restrictions regarding eligibility (i.e. only limited to families with school-aged children)
  • Some hot spots were deactivated when community facilities closed down
  • Devices that are being donated are sometimes too old to be compatible with new software
  • It is not clear what data has been collected or what mapping has been done at a local level to identify specific populations that have digital access challenges.
  • Connectivity remains the most significant challenge in rural areas, rather than limited access to devices or technological literacy issues.

3. Opportunities that were highlighted:

  • Some are calling for a new digital philanthropy that could address issues of digital equity and access
  • There is an opportunity for local governments to issue a call to action to expand high-speed Internet access to underserved rural areas.

4. Resources:

  • Grey County issued a Call to Action in June 2020 to expand broadband to underserved areas
  • Future of Good hosted a digital conversation on Bridging the Digital Divide
  • ACORN Canada members are demanding $10/month high speed internet for low income families as part of their Internet for All campaign. Take action on closing the digital divide – sign the petition!

HOUSING SUPPORTS
Addressing issues surrounding people who are without shelter requires uncomfortable conversations about systemic change, system failures and relationships. 

  • YMCA Housing reported since April 1st they have supported approximately: 307 adults;  of those 135 adults were without shelter; 53 youth; of those 28 youth provided shelter in Bruce County. An average of 7.5 nights/month/person is up from 2-3 nights stays. 
  • And in Grey County approximately 1502 adults were supported; of those 438 adults were provided shelter; 370 youth; of those 63 sheltered. An average stay of 8 nights/month/person. 
  • The Women’s Centre GB has increased the number of quarantine rooms to 4 to increase the number of women they can accept. 

There are complex issues at play when a house with many tenants and one neighbourhood are considered a “hot spot” by the police and city officials.   

  • Citing a 2010 Wellesley Institute Study on Shared Accomodation Safe ‘N Sound staff recommend three factors to consider to ‘turn around’ a house deemed a “hot spot”: 1) Support from local agencies. 2) A landlord who works cooperatively with local agencies and sees him/herself as a provider of affordable housing embedded within the social service milieu in a given neighbourhood and 3) An engaged tenant. 
  • The City of Owen Sound has released its Staff Report to Council on responding to a ‘hot spot’ in its city after consultation with social support service providers, bylaw and police. 
  • The Canadian Urban Institute has 5 Key Takeaways from recent conversations on housing people who are homeless under the pandemic.   

There is a lot of work happening to address the housing crisis we are experiencing in Grey County and Bruce County. 

  • Grey County Housing and Bruce County Housing have submitted their Social Emergency Relief Fund business plans for the disbursement of remaining funds to the Province for approval. 
  • The next Giiwe Circle meeting will take place on Sept 25th (10am-11:30am) for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous housing partners. 
  • M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre has been working on a Homeward Bound Feasibility Study.  
  • Saugeen Shores Council recently endorsed the formation of an Attainable Housing Task Force. This formation has led to a group of well-informed individuals being appointed and assigned the responsibility to report back to Council later this year with recommendations pertaining to how our housing stock can be increased with the emphasis on affordability and attainability. They have invited stakeholders to speak before the Task Force and the public is invited to a public consultation on September 17th.  
  • Families searching for affordable housing has been on the rise. The Bruce County Housing & Homelessness Plan Update reported wait-list applications have increased from 306 in 2015 to 639 families (2019) in search of affordable housing; 303 of the 639 housing waitlist applicants relate to Saugeen Shores. 

  TRANSPORTATION SUPPORTS

  • Bruce County Transportation and Environmental Services is conducting a Master Transportation Study. As part of the study a series of Public Information Centers (PICs) are being held online.  The first is available for viewing on the County website at: https://brucecounty.on.ca/transportation-master-plan 
  • At the County website you can also access a comment card to submit questions, comments or feedback and be asked to be added to a listing to receive further information updates via email.

INCOME SUPPORTS 

EDUCATION AND FOOD SECURITY SUPPORTS 

  • School Nutrition Program: breakfast club programs have been converted into “grab-and-go” packaged meals by the Bluewater Board and most likely the Catholic School Board but different policies exist on volunteers in the school. The program is funding some 15,700 students/day for Grey Bruce based on 2019 school year estimates and anticipating 80-90% attendance. 
  • The ‘grab-and-go” program is funded for the next 2 months. Hot meal programs at schools are on hold. This will be assessed in 2 months and determine the impact of a predicted second wave. It is recognized that food programs at school are a source of nutrition for many children in our communities. 
  • Food Banks and meal programs are assisting families with “lunchable” food to ensure families have sufficient food for school lunches. Donations to the School Nutrition Program can be made based on a list of packaged items such as granola bars, yogurt, cheese strings, etc. 

EDUCATION AND CHILDCARE SUPPORTS

  • The Ontario government is launching a webpage to report COVID-19 cases in schools and child care centres. This page will be updated every weekday with the most up-to-date COVID-19 information available, including a summary of cases in schools and licensed child care centres and agencies, if a COVID-19 case is confirmed at your school and where the numbers come from.  
  • The United Way of Bruce Grey still has backpacks available for students. Contact the United Way directly. Non-student backpacks have been donated by the United Way to Safe ‘N Sound.  

Stay well, Jill 

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