\District community services provide social welfare

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MUSKOKA – In light of the District of Muskoka services review, the Huntsville Forester is running a series of information pieces to help explain the role of upper and lower tier governments. This week’s focus is on community services.
Providing social welfare programs to some of the region’s most vulnerable residents is the goal of Muskoka Community Services, says district community services commissioner Rick Williams.
“The numbers change from time to time, but we probably, on any given year, touch the lives of 15 to 20 per cent of the population,” said Williams. “And that’s not the same 15 per cent every year. People come in and out of our services based on their need of aid.”
The District of Muskoka’s community services department provides several mandatory programs delegated by the province to the upper-tier government.
Ontario Works, which provides limited financial support and employment skills training to people without income and minimal assets, is one such program.
Another is emergency assistance for working families that have had temporary disruptions in income or unique one-time costs they cannot offset. Community Services reviews over 400 applications a year and provides funding support to about 250 families for housing or utilities.
Childcare programs see the district provide low-income families with a childcare subsidy – from $5 to $35 per day – so that they can maintain employment. The district also provides resources and supports to children with special needs so they are more successful entering school.
Housing programs offer a variety of subsidies to low-income families, persons with disabilities and low-income seniors. Approximately 1,000 persons in Muskoka receive housing subsidy. The waiting list continues to grow and is now more than 500 names long.
Long-term care programs revolve around the Pines Long-Term Care Home, which provides care for 160 persons with an average age of 86, who face challenges such as mobility, nursing care and dementia.
Community planning sees the district create a range of agency planning tables across service areas related to seniors, children, poverty, employment and housing to improve service availability and accessibility in Muskoka.
Collaborations among agencies that focus on mental health, children’s aid, addiction services and public health often occur under community planning programs.
“The only linkage we occasionally have with the lower tier (municipalities) is on the issue of recreation and cultural services, where sometimes we are trying to ensure that kids in housing or kids in families on Ontario Works might benefit from getting swimming lessons or being involved in camp programs,” said Williams. “But that’s not a delivery issue, it’s more of a collaboration issue of us purchasing services from them in order to serve people, who are our clients, in other ways.”
The district community service department may also have an interest in the decisions of the six area municipalities when it comes to housing and zoning, said Williams.
“For example, if they were to make zoning very restrictive – require lot sizes be very large in order to promote expensive homes and make sure poor people didn’t locate in their town – that would be an area we would want to talk to them about,” he said. “That’s not a duplication, that’s more of a joint interest.”
The social assistance programs and subsidies provided by the district are there to help residents who are most in need, he said.
Much of the time, he said, their vulnerability is temporary.
“Sometimes poverty is transitional for people – they get out of it, they find a job, they move on,” said Williams. “Persons who are moving onto our caseload would really rather be working. It’s not an issue that caseloads have grown because people are more indolent, but rather that opportunities have evaporated for people and we’re trying to work toward keeping hope and opportunities in front of people.”
Williams said the demand for nearly every service the community services department provides has Franck Muller Replica Watches doubled in the last five years.
“A lot of what we Replica Replica Ebel do is advocating for those services. They are important toward creating a strong community and it is sometimes easy to neglect or limit those services unless there is some advocacy for them,” he said.
Huntsville and Gravenhurst have departments at the lower-tier level called community services or recreation and community services, respectively, which provide similar services to Bracebridge’s culture and recreation department, and Muskoka Lakes’ and Lake of Bays’ parks and recreation.
These departments largely focus, to varying degrees, on senior, adult and youth recreation, facilities rentals, arts and culture events, heritage, parks, beautification, docks, boat launches, trails and cemeteries.
However, municipalities such as Huntsville do provide grants and seed funding to non-profits or services groups through other committees.
They do not provide funding to individuals, as the district does.

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