Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update #28

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 

Poverty Task Force/United Way Community Update # 18

Dear Colleagues, 

Basic Income Canada writes that we are at a critical juncture in Canada where emergency COVID-19 benefits can be wound down or reshaped into an ongoing basic income that enables everyone to be part of a better, new normal.

There are panels, briefs and community voices being presented to the government – most recently to the Senate.  

  • We know that we live in a rich country and we can fund programs that are good for the economy and the community.   
  • We know that Basic Income is not a pancrea for people living in poverty.  Lives are too complex for a single solution. 
  • We know that it does not solve the problem of affordable housing, quality accessible childcare or gender inequality in the workplace. 
  • We know that a Basic Income+ would be a supplement to other programs that serve to meet basic needs. 
  • We know that it will not address sexism, racism etc. across our society but that it will move us toward more equity and equality.
    • We know that 56% of women in Canada work in 5Cs jobs: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. 
    • We know that women are 2 times more likely to lose their job or have their hours reduced under COVID19. 
    • We know that many women are now working triple shifts – homeschooling children, unpaid house work and paid at home work.
  • We know that Basic Income+ needs to be a liveable income and be tied with the cost of living.
  • We know that Basic Income+ could enable women’s economic independence, offer greater choices, more flexibility, childcare affordability, more bargaining power in employment and access to better housing & neighbourhoods, improved health and wellbeing.   (Evelyn Forget, 18 June 2020 – Tamarack webinar: Basic Income & Gender Inequality)

The CERB has given some people a taste of what they could gain if a universal basic income program were implemented. CERB was designed to keep people at home. As we reopen our community and country, we need to design a system that will increase people’s ability to fully participate in our society. 

INCOME SUPPORTS 

  • CERB Extension:   The Federal government announced that it would be extending the CERB by 8 weeks, making the benefit available to eligible applicants for up to 24 weeks.  But it will begin asking applicants to sign an attestation acknowledging the government wants them to work and directing them to the government’s job bank.     
  • CERB Overpayments: People may have applied for and received CERB when they were not eligible or became ineligible after applying. It is important for people to know that the government is asking those who received CERB in error to repay.  
  • The safest ways to repay CERB overpayments are through CRA My Account or by phoning CRA at 1-800-959-8281.  
  • If someone is unsure about whether they were eligible or not, they can visit the following link for clarification and information on repayment. 
  • Scams using CERB overpayments as their hook have become common. If someone thinks they have received a call, mail, or e-mail from a scammer, they should report it to the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre
  • United Way Financial Literacy Program: can assist families with budgeting, accessing additional income sources if they are not already utilizing them, system navigation along with a sensible and realistic approach to household finances. Will be focused on providing advice for households that have OW, ODSP and CERB interactions as we understand them. Contact Caroline Araujo Abbotts – Financial Literacy Program Coordinator, via advice@unitedwaybg.com or call 519-376-1560, 519-378-4773 (cell).  
  • A COVID-19 aid bill proposed to offer a one-time, tax-free payment of up to $600 for Canadians who have disabilities was defeated. Opposition parties raised concerns about a number of aspects of the bill, including proposed penalties for fraudulently claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.  
  • Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) the government will start accepting new applications for the starting Friday. The government has expanded program eligibility to include farmers.

HOUSING SUPPORTS 

  • CEAP (Covid-19 Energy Assistance Program)Available to consumers who have fallen behind by at least two billing cycles, but whose accounts were in good standing when the provincial emergency was declared. 
    • Available for those unemployed on the date they apply for funding, and have received Employment Insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit since March 17, 2020; 
    • Provide electricity customers with up to $230 in support if they primarily use electricity for heating, or if they use energy-intensive medical devices, and up to $115 otherwise; 
    • Provide natural gas customers with up to $160 if they reside in Northern Ontario, and up to $80 if they reside elsewhere;
  • Wood, Furnace Oil and Propane Support: the United Way isstill processing applications for these sources of heat.  Sewer and Water Arrears: the United Way is working with only households with a disconnection order and in the communities of Owen Sound, Meaford and Saugeen Shores.  The intakes are done by 211 and then processed by Karen Baxter, assist@unitedwaybg.com or 519-376-1560.  Karen can also provide support and knowledge on the rules and regulations. 
  • Low-Income Energy Assistance Program (LEAP): all intakes and processing of applications have been halted under the direction of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB).  Those in arrears can apply as soon as the disconnection ban is lifted. 
    • The grant is still $500 and they need to pay what is owing on top of that. People are encouraged to contact the utilities they have outstanding balances with and try to negotiate payment arrangements at this time. 
  • AffordAbility Fund Trust:  assists people who do not qualify for other low-income energy programs. Applicants may be eligible for free energy upgrades that can lower overall home energy use and electricity bills.  Applicants can call 855-494-3863 or email Kim Williams (aft@unitedwaybg.com), Community Activator. 
  • The Housing Action Group: meets weekly to respond to homelessness and COVID19 housing challenges. The group is concerned about recent overdoses and analyzing unsafe conditions or situations exacerbated under COVID19. While Housing workers are seeing more complex cases involving addictions with some deaths there remains a low number of calls to 911/EMS. Trust factors and structural stigma remain factors. Potential solutions are to increase peer-support workers and increase outreach services.   
  • The Community Drug and Alcohol Strategy joined this week’s call. The Opioid Working Group has reconvened and action is being taken to address issues with a harm reduction approach. Dr. Ara has released a statement on recent concerns. 
    • People who use drugs and their friends and family are also encouraged to access naloxone and opioid overdose training. Naloxone works to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose caused by drugs such as fentanyl, heroin, oxycodone or morphine. 
    • A free Naloxone kit is available at the Grey Bruce Health Unit, no appointment necessary, Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. It is also available from some local pharmacies. Find out more at www.ontario.ca/Overdose 
  • Ontario Student Nutrition Program (OSNP): The Province announced that it would be investing $1 million in funding to support families experiencing food insecurity by adapting the Student Nutrition Program to continue to provide school-age children with access to healthy meals and snacks during the COVID-19 outbreak. 
  • The OSNP program in Grey Bruce has distributed grocery gift cards and food boxes to families with Federal funding in partnership with the United Way, Bruce Grey Child & Family Services and so many other community partners. 
  • The Salvation Army Chesley Food Bank: starting on July 8th they will be serving the community in a new location at the Chesley Community Church (307 1st Avenue), Wednesday mornings from 9 am to noon.  Appointments can be made by calling 519-364-3450.  Jennifer Sachs is available as the Family Services Worker at 519-364-3450 or jennifer_sachs@can.salvationarmy.org.   
  • The Food Security Action Group meets bi-weekly to discuss logistics, gaps and barriers in emergency food response. Recent challenges identified include the transportation of meals by  frozen meal programs. These programs were operating pre-COVID19 and have significantly scaled up during the pandemic.  But many health staff in South Bruce and South East Grey who have been delivering meals to homes now have caseloads that are too high and the service is evolving, so they cannot continue to make deliveries in July.  Solutions may include establishing Regional Distribution Hubs, staff hiring and new volunteer recruitment. 
  • De-stigmatizing food insecurity: COVID19 has highlighted the need to reach out to isolated seniors. Organizations are seeing that seniors are hesitant to receive charity food. The Tara & Area Food Bank has been working with Bruce County Housing to get the message out that the food banks are community resources that everyone in the community has contributed to ensure their neighbours are taken care of. 
  • Community Meal Programs: continue to see increasing numbers. 
    • OSHaRE: 14,474 meals (JanApril 2020) plus 7,029 meals in May were served for a total of 21,503 meals. Continuing to share extras out with other community meal programs. 
    • YUM Program: South East Grey CHC distributes 100 meals/week supplied by St. Aidan’s Community Meal Program. 
    • St. Aidan’s Community Meal Program: provided 700 meals in May and from June 1-12th has provided 275 meals. 
    • Chesley Baptist Church: provides 90 hot meals/week. 

EMPLOYMENT SUPPORTS

  • connect2JOBS.ca has been launched by Four County Labour Market Planning Board. 
  • WSIB has extended First Aid Training Certification to Sept 30th, 2020.  WSIB will continue to monitor and adjust this date, if necessary. 
  • To help keep knowledge of First Aid in the workplace at a critical time, the WSIB is endorsing certification and recertification for the knowledge component of the training through a Blended Learning First Aid course.  Individuals would complete the online portion and then have up to 120 days to complete the one day in class portion.  
  • Contact Kathy Murphy Ermel, St. John Ambulance, Grey Bruce Huron Branch by email (kathy.ermel@sja.ca) or leave a message at 519-364-7004 ext. 2 if you wish to arrange training and verify costs. 
  • Enabling Accessibility Fund: for projects that improve the accessibility of persons with disabilities in facilities where they work are a priority with a grant of up to $100,000. To receive funding, your organization must be a: not-for-profit organization; business; small municipality; Indigenous organization (including band councils, tribal councils and self-government entities); territorial government. Applications accepted until July 13, 2020.   

CHILDREN YOUTH SUPPORTS 

  • The Province announced up to $46 million in new funding over 5 years to increase community-based and Indigenous-specific supports for child and youth victims of sex trafficking. The deadline for applications to the Community Supports Fund and the Indigenous-led Initiatives Fund is July 30, 2020 at 5 p.m.     
  • The Province has announced an additional $10 million for school boards to boost mental health services for students to help them cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.   The additional $10 million is on top of a previously announced $25 million used to hire about 180 mental health workers for Ontario high schools.
  • The Province also announced $15 million for boards to buy about 35,000 computers in total across all school boards.  And $7.6 million for a Summer 2020 Transition Programs for Students with Special Education Needs and Mental Health Concerns.
  • Camp in a Box or Camp Kits: virtual summer camps are being designed by various organizations across Grey Bruce. One such example is a partnership with  The Municipality of Meaford has partnered with The Imagination Studio to bring two Camp in a Box activities: Magic and Science Kit & Camp, and POM POM Sculpture Kit & Camp.      

GOVERNANCE SUPPORTS

  • The Province is providing employers with a new general workplace guide to help them develop a safety plan to protect workers, customers and clients through reopening. The guide explains what employers should think about, and provides examples of controls as well as a template for creating a plan. 
  • Volunteer Canada Resources on COVID-19 and Volunteering: Board Governance– Information and resources for boards of non-profit organizations to help navigate governance issues during COVID-19, including virtual annual general meetings and legislative considerations. 

Stay well, Jill 

Giiwe: Reducing Indigenous Homelessness

Members of the Poverty Task Force’s Community Voices and Housing Action Group partners participated in a Giiwe Circle with author Jesse Thistle.  Jesse presented his work on the development of a Indigenous Definition of Homelessness with The Homeless Hub. Jesse also shared his personal story, his new book From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. and joined us in our Giiwe Circle.  Jesse Thistle – who has traveled all across Canada – commented that Giiwe was a unique project and its Circles a unique experience that he had not seen in any other communities across Canada.

Giiwe is an exciting Indigenous led, inter-agency collaboration brought to us by the staff at M’Wikwedong Indigenous Friendship Centre. The project aims at reducing off-reserve Indigenous homelessness. Giiwe is centred on fostering a coordinated housing-related response to Indigenous specific housing needs and preferences in Grey Bruce.

Giiwe has successfully established and sustained an Indigenous led, inter-agency collaboration with 11 organizations while strengthening relationships and promoting trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners. It has also facilitated a referral process and established inter-agency agreements to better serve Indigenous peoples living off-reserve. A recent Evaluation Report highlights the work being done.

Giiwe Circles incorporate cultural safety training, collaborative case management and relationship building to increase Indigenous leadership with improved collaboration and understanding of Indigenous practices, which ultimately lead to the prevention of Indigenous homelessness.

 

Rural Homeless Enumeration 2018

full length of man sitting outdoors

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In April of 2018, Bruce County and Grey County each conducted a homelessness enumeration using a Period Prevalence Count (PPC) methodology in their respective counties.

The problem of homelessness is most often associated with urban communities, however, a growing body of research over the past 15 years has shown that the problem is also prevalent in rural Canada. The size and the dynamics of the problem in these rural areas is still largely unknown, in part because of unique problems that
rural areas pose for data collection. Rural areas often have fewer services geared towards people experiencing homelessness and the services that are available often serve a large geographical region.

A recent study conducted in rural and northern Ontario found that only 32 percent of service providers in these regions are able to keep ongoing records of their at-risk and homeless populations. This problem is compounded by the fact that rural areas tend to have smaller populations spread out over relatively large geographic regions, making it more difficult to locate those who sleep rough or stay in unsafe dwellings.

The homelessness enumeration was the first of its kind to be conducted in Bruce County and Grey County – the result of a mandate set by the provincial government in 2016 with the passage of the Promoting Affordable Housing Act and the commitment to end chronic homelessness by 2025.

Beginning in 2018, all Ontario municipalities are required to conduct a homeless enumeration every two years with the goals of:

  • Improving community awareness and understanding of homelessness;
  • Helping to monitor and assess developing trends over time;
  • Providing a method through which to measure progress; and
  • Strengthening efforts to end homelessness.

The Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force Housing Action Group identified organizations across the two counties that work with people experiencing homelessness as hub sites where enumerators would be located to conduct surveys. Front line social service workers were provided enumeration training on the survey tool, empathy training and information on services/programs available for people experiencing homelessness.

Results

Bruce County: over the course of the enumeration week, a total of 17 individuals experiencing homelessness were counted in Bruce County. Eleven of them completed questionnaires.  Read more in the full report: 2018 Homeless Enumeration – Bruce County.

Grey County: over the course of the week 33 individuals identified as experiencing homelessness and 29 completed the survey.  Read more in the full report to council.

Next Steps

The results are large enough to demonstrate homelessness exists in Grey County and Bruce County. Although the results presented are not generalizable to both counties’ population, they are sufficient to demonstrate that homelessness is a socioeconomic problem in Bruce County and Grey County.  The results suggests avenues for further study, particularly in regards to youth and seniors’ homelessness.

These results will be used in the consultation sessions for the update to Bruce County’s Long-Term Housing Strategy and Grey County’s 10 Year Housing and Homelessness Plan.