Needs go unmet as 95 social service groups share city funding

·4 min read
People line up outside St. Luke's Table drop-in centre in Ottawa's Chinatown for the free lunch it provides. (CBC - image credit)
People line up outside St. Luke's Table drop-in centre in Ottawa's Chinatown for the free lunch it provides. (CBC - image credit)

The list of non-profit organizations that can count on City of Ottawa funding each year to run drop-in centres, counselling and other social services has been revamped, but many say the total amount still comes nowhere near meeting needs on the ground.

The City of Ottawa will allocate $25.8 million in its 2022 budget so 95 groups can get predictable annual funding over the next five years. New to the list are 22 organizations that mostly serve Black and Indigenous communities, women, youth, or provide food.

Non-profit organizations that didn't receive a reliable annual grant had long argued the city should accept new applications — the list of recipients had remained static since 2012.

When the city finally did rework its community funding program, it received far more demand than its typical budget envelope could meet: requests came in from 139 organizations for $66 million in total.

That's because more people are precariously housed or falling through the cracks, there's an opioid crisis, and needs are more complicated and must be met in culturally sensitive ways, explained the executive director of the Somerset West Community Health Centre, a long-time recipient of city funding.

"There's a lot more needed to keep the safety net strong," said Naini Cloutier. "We need a major infusion of funding into the sector if we want to improve the quality of well-being."

Black-led organizations fill gaps

Cloutier is pleased the city has expanded funding to groups that are trying new methods for getting food to residents, and groups led by people who are Black, Indigenous or from other racialized groups.

Her health centre is involved in the Ottawa Community Food Partnership, which runs community fridges and arranges for restaurants to prepare meals. It will receive $100,000 a year.

'There are great programs out there but often they don't have that cultural lens, which I think is absolutely essential.' - Ken Campbell, Jaku Konbit

The Ottawa Black Mental Health Coalition, meanwhile, will receive $149,163 yearly. It was formed by 20 or more organizations a few years ago aimed at making sure people in distress know where to turn for culturally appropriate help.

Another organization, Jaku Konbit, has existed for two decades but until now only received a single small amount from the city for its Kwanzaa celebration. It will now receive $70,000 for its tutoring, mentoring and summer camp for Black youth, and to offer programs for Black seniors at home in the pandemic.

"There are great programs out there but often they don't have that cultural lens, which I think is absolutely essential," said president Ken Campbell.

Jaku Konbit fills gaps and reaches people other agencies have a harder time getting to, he says.

"Ottawa being very multicultural and diverse, it's very important that the funding source is reflective of the community," said Campbell.

Some groups fall off list

While 22 groups are being added, six will lose their stable city grant. That includes the AIDS Committee of Ottawa, which has received annual funding for nearly two decades.

Its $91,000 from the City of Ottawa used to go toward its drop-in centre called "The Living Room" where people impacted by HIV/AIDS could get a hot meal, use computers, or meet staff one-on-one for psychosocial support.

Executive director Khaled Salam knew there was the risk it wouldn't make the cut under the city's new system.

"We all knew the total pot of money wasn't going up, however there were more organizations that were eligible to apply," he said.

The organization still gets its core funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health, and he's grateful the city will provide one year of funding so it can figure out how to make up the loss.

submitted by Khaled Salam
submitted by Khaled Salam

For most organizations on the city's grant list, funding remains status quo or they will receive just a small increase.

Somerset West's Cloutier had hoped the City of Ottawa would see the needs of a growing city, and try to better match its grants to the demand.

The health centre applied for $3 million to boost its counselling for African and Caribbean populations, its program for Chinese seniors, and to expand its hours to evenings and weekends. It will receive $760,000.

"What we got was exactly the same amount we've been receiving all these years, so it was disappointing," said Cloutier.

In all, the City of Ottawa's community funding will rise by $1.6 million to $28.6 million in its 2022 budget, which is being debated this month. Cloutier hopes council might still decide to spend more "to truly respond to the crises on hand."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting