Several not-for-profit organizations throughout New Tecumseth are struggling to make ends meet due to the global pandemic.
Alliston Out of the Cold (AOTC) is experiencing this challenge as they only have half of the 80 volunteers needed to run the program this year, resulting in a two-week delay to its regular November 1 start and a risk of not operating altogether.
Without funding to hire an overnight staff member to cover volunteers’ shifts, AOTC cannot go forward, so, on Monday Board Chair Lisa Nicol delivered a presentation to Town Council, requesting $80,000.
"I come before you this evening to inform you that Alliston Out of the Cold has an urgent need for funds. Without your support, the board is being faced with a difficult situation, whether we can open or not for this season,” she said.
"If we are unable to open, there are no other emergency shelters in South Simcoe to fill this absence; the next closest shelters are Barrie and Newmarket who serve their populations first, not those from other communities.”
AOTC has operated the past three years in New Tecumseth providing an emergency shelter and counselling to connect homeless individuals with services that can help them become housed.
In 2019, the organization saw a 37 per cent increase in users from the previous year and with the impact of COVID-19 on the public’s mental health and financial wellbeing, that number is projected to rise.
“If we do not secure additional funding, we will not be able to operate an emergency shelter for the 2021 season and beyond, leaving the most vulnerable out in the cold,” stressed Nicol.
"We encourage the Council as well to take a more active role in dealing with the increasing issues around affordable housing options in our area.”
In addition to requesting $80,000, AOTC also requested an annual $50,000 contribution from Council’s budget to help them remain viable in the future as well.
The Town’s grants and donations budget has money available in it since less was spent because of several COVID-19 related cancellations, so Ward 7 Councillor Shira Harrison McIntyre put forward a motion to have Town Staff provide an update on those funds, so Council can consider the program.
The motion, which passed unanimously, also requested that the Town send a letter of support to Simcoe County asking that they grant AOTC funds.
Deputy Mayor Richard Norcross, who sits on Simcoe County Council with Mayor Rick Mine said they’ve advocated for AOTC throughout the year, pushing for local funding and will continue to do so.
“Simcoe County does donate to the homeless shelters and these programs not only in the city of Barrie but also in the city of Orillia,” noted Norcross.
“These shelters are becoming very recognized because we have certainly realized that homelessness doesn't know municipal boundaries and we know that when we have these centres set up, in usually the larger urban areas, we do get people from all over the County,” he continued.
"So, it's a comment upon the County to make sure that services such as yours are adequately funded and do receive a piece of that pie because people are moving around. Our budget process is starting very soon too, so you can certainly count on our support there to see if we can get you a really big piece of that pie.”
In April, when COVID-19 cases began ramping up, AOTC began housing its patrons 24/7, which significantly depleted its available budget.
The Town helped AOTC access funds from Simcoe County in May at which time they moved to a motel shelter and operated until August.
"Knowing the concerns brought on by the pandemic and our passion for serving the individuals in the community, we have since launched an outreach program in September when we returned to New Tecumseth to provide a broader service,” Nicol noted.
"The goal of the outreach program is to connect individuals, couples and families to urgently needed food supplies, services and supports as well as provide emergency assistance to those at risk of experiencing homelessness and food insecurity, housed or otherwise."
Council will make a decision on how much of AOTC’s $80,000 request it will receive at the next Council meeting on November 2 when Town staff provides an update on the remaining funds in this year’s grants and donations budget.
Sam Odrowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times