MUSKOKA – The District of Muskoka is looking at new ways to respond to social assistance needs as the number of people using the services has doubled in the last six years.
During an Oct. 9 Lake of Bays council meeting, District Chair John Klinck and commissioner of community services Rick Williams brought their concerns forward.
“We have seen a dramatic increase in the District of Muskoka for the requirements for social service assistance,” said Klinck. “We’re looking at almost a doubling of those that require some assistance from others to make ends meet.”
Services provided by the district include social assistance (Ontario Works Financial and Employment Services), emergency assistance, social and affordable housing, homelessness programs, poverty reduction, childcare and long-term care.
“There’s been an integration of all the social service groups, be they district or provincial or independent, they seem to be listening and ensuring that we’re all talking together,” Klinck said. “They’re making sure individuals and families are aware of all the opportunities so we can get them back to work.”
The provincial government will be assuming the costs of social assistance, which will transfer nearly $2 million off the district, by 2018.
A committee consisting of 10 community members and six district councillors has been established to set priorities for $1.75 million of affordable housing initiatives.
Klinck said the district provides above average services for below average costs.
But the district still has work to do. Muskoka has the highest increase for Ontario Works assistance in any jurisdiction across the province since 2006.
“It’s an argument I think that the district council needs to make as far as the particular pressure in Muskoka and on Muskokans related to the general view that we are a privileged community,” said Williams. “We are privileged to live where we are but there is economic pressure here and that needs to be recognized to some degree.”
An increase in Ontario Works needs has come mainly from people in the 18 to 29 years of age group.
“That’s difficult,” said Williams. “That’s difficult to see and of course difficult to respond to. We’re trying to come up with imaginative programs that keep people engaged in wellness, keep people engaged in their community and keep people optimistic about their potential for later employment.”
Williams said the district has also seen a tremendous growth in requests for social housing in all age groups.
“It shows a lot of people in Muskoka on our waitlist have low-income, low-assets and high needs for some type of program for housing at an affordable level.”
He said the district will continue to work on partnerships to provide better programs and services.