23 Mar The Agencies Spreading Hope
United Way Simcoe Muskoka’s Urgent Needs Fund, like all our programs, serves a large geographical area. Our communities include everything from the Town of Blue Mountains to Huntsville, from Penetanguishine down to Bradford—and everywhere in between.
With such a large area, the Urgent Needs Fund needed partners that would help distribute the grants to applicants who needed it. These partners are known as Regional Agency Leads, and they have been critical to the success of the Urgent Needs Fund.
Who are the Regional Agency Leads?
With our new regional approach to deal with poverty and social isolation, UWSM has established six sub-regions throughout Simcoe Muskoka. Within each sub-region, a Regional Agency Lead (RAL) is the frontline distributor of the Urgent Needs Fund. These RALs are:
CONTACT Community Services (South Simcoe) – An agency that focuses on volunteer, employment and housing services. They run a thrift store in Alliston where people can purchase gently used goods.
Independent Living Services (Barrie & Area) – ILS provides support and services to seniors and people with disabilities in Simcoe County and the surrounding area, assisting them in leading dignified, productive and independent lives.
CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre (North Simcoe) – CHIGAMIK is a community-governed primary healthcare organization, providing a combination of primary care, health promotion programs and holistic, culturally-relevant and bilingual community development initiatives.
South Georgian Bay Community Health Centre (South Georgian Bay) – SGBCHC is a non-profit, community-governed, charitable organization that provides health care services, community programs and community development services all under one roof.
The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter (Orillia & Area) – A new supportive housing program. The Lighthouse is a soup kitchen, community services hub and homeless shelter. They are also currently running a motel voucher program to assist with
The District Municipality of Muskoka’s Homelessness Programs and Services Division (Muskoka) – A people-centered, partnership-based approach to end chronic homelessness in Muskoka, which includes services pertaining to emergency accommodation, food vouchers, transportation, youth support and housing, among other initiatives.
Once a UNF applicant has applied and been approved for a grant through 211 Ontario (in Simcoe County) or the District of Muskoka, they are directed to their RAL, depending on where they live. The RALs then provide the grant recipient with their funds and, on quite a few occasions, might go out with them and assist them with the need that the UNF was applied for in the first place. This has included grocery shopping, buying winter clothes for their families or just driving out to where the recipient lives if transportation isn’t available.
What Issues do the RALs See in Their Communities?
“People spend all of their income on rent, leaving no money for food or anything else.” – Trent Simons, CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre
“If we hadn’t had the funding to support their request, they would have gone without, which would have set them back further and they would have gone away hungry.” – Sandra Daleman, The District Municipality of Muskoka
We asked the Leads what poverty-related issues they frequently see in their sub-regions. As frontline service providers, these organizations see these needs every day.
No matter the community, there were many constants that Simcoe Muskoka residents living in poverty face: affordable housing, transportation, food insecurity, winter clothing, cell phone costs and access to beds. While individual sub-regions might face one or more of these issues more prevalently than others, experiencing poverty can cause any number of these problems and more.
Among UNF recipients, we asked our Leads if they saw a repeated need that the Fund was being used for.
Jennifer Fleury from CONTACT Community Services in South Simcoe replied, “There are not a lot of programs that can be quickly or easily accessed for smaller amounts of cash. Most of the needs have been paying for a phone card or to purchase food after the individual can no longer access the Food Bank.”
Medical equipment and dentures are common uses in Muskoka, while beds/mattresses, food and transportation were common needs in Barrie and Orillia.
In North Simcoe, Trent Simons from CHIGAMIK says that the Urgent Needs Fund is helping homeless individuals with cell phone access. This allows support agencies to connect with these individuals when needed and allows appointments and other supports to follow-up with them. In addition to that, cell phone access, while taken for granted by a lot of us, is essential for job searching and the interview process, and CHIGAMIK’s clients have also reported feeling safer when they have a phone that works.
Are There Any Stories That Have Stood Out?
“All of the experiences…stand out in their own way. Seeing the relief in a person’s eyes knowing that they can now pay their phone bill, get some groceries or fill up a gas tank to get to their doctor’s appointment is an honour to share that.” – Jennifer Fleury, CONTACT Community Services
We also asked the RALs if there were any recipient stories that have stuck with them, any situations where the Urgent Needs Fund made a memorable difference.
The Lighthouse in Orillia told us of three recipients that made an impact on them. The first was an individual with children whose house was heated by oil. In the middle of winter, their oil ran out and they couldn’t afford a refill. With the UNF, they were able to get that refill and stay warm. Another recipient was a mom who, along with her daughter, was sleeping on the floor of their home. The UNF got them both beds. Finally, the UNF also helped a man with transportation and lodging so he could visit his son who was suffering in the hospital.
In Muskoka, two stories stood out to Sandra Daleman from the District. First, a man in his 50s was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer but couldn’t be responsibly released from the hospital until the bathroom in his home was repaired. The UNF, along with other funds, helped get those repairs done so he could return home. Secondly, an incident occurred in an affordable family housing unit that involved a child being harmed. OPP and the Children’s Aid Society became involved and, for the child’s safety, the family had to move to a home on the private market. With all money going towards the unexpected first- and last-months’ rent, the UNF helped with moving expenses to get the family to safety.
ILS in Barrie facilitated a grant to a grandmother who had sole custody of her grandson, due to the untimely death of her daughter. Her grandson is on dialysis and needs to make frequent trips to Toronto for tests and procedures. The two did not have a permanent address and the grandmother, who is on ODSP, used all of her month’s income for the deposit on an apartment for them. In the meantime, that left the pair without any funds at all. The Urgent Needs Fund helped them get through that transition period by covering transportation costs until her next cheque came in.
There are so many stories just like these; real lives changed by the Urgent Needs Fund.
How Have Recipients Reacted?
“Everyone has been very appreciative of the support.” – Teal Wise, The Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter
All Leads agree that there are two reactions that UNF recipients show: gratitude for the assistance and surprise at the dignified manner they receive when they access the grant.
One of the things we have seen again and again is how important it was for recipients to feel respected and unjudged when accessing the UNF. In North Simcoe, recipients say that they rarely receive assistance like this without judgement or strings attached.
In Barrie, Tami Tarini at ILS says that many recipients have wanted to justify their need for the fund and are embarrassed to ask for help. Tami reassures them that anyone on any day could be in a position where they might need a helping hand, and that is a message that we can’t echo strongly enough.
Giving Hope to Those Who Need It Most
“We saw firsthand how prevalent and vast the gaps were for an individual to live a dignified and healthy life, not only for themselves but also for their families.” – Tami Tarini, Independent Living Services
Our Regional Agency Leads repeated again and again how impactful the UNF has been and how much they have enjoyed being a part of the pilot project.
Sandra with the District of Muskoka says, “We are grateful to be a part of this pilot program. We see the needs of the community and the complexity of peoples’ lives both increasing. Having access to the UNF has been so helpful for our community.” Other Leads have noted that the UNF has allowed them to interact with individuals who aren’t their normal clients. This, in turn, increases knowledge of the community’s needs for the Lead and makes the recipient more aware of community resources.
The Urgent Needs Fund has also filled a gap in existing services, allowing United Way Simcoe Muskoka and the RALs to help those who can’t find help anywhere else. Trent from North Simcoe says that the UNF fills a gap because it “has provided those in need with non-judgmental, simple access to much needed funds. This in turn helps improves community health and wellbeing.”
We can’t say thank you enough to the Regional Agency Leads that have enabled UWSM and the Urgent Needs Fund to help so many of the most vulnerable across Simcoe Muskoka.
This Month, Give Twice the Hope
The Urgent Needs Fund is just one of the great initiatives funded by United Way Simcoe Muskoka. During the month of March, when you donate to United Way Simcoe Muskoka, your donation is matched by the Orsi Group.
That means your gift has double the impact. It goes twice as far in funding UWSM’s poverty reduction initiatives and gives twice as much hope.