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Looking at support for those with special needs in northern Ont. as funding struggles

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Last month, CTV News looked at growing concerns about the lack of funding for developmental services, specifically the Community Living programs in northern Ontario.

Now, now we are looking at the programming in the region and the support clients may have to go without if the funding model is not changed.

CTV News takes a look at programming offered by Community Living Ontario in the north and the support clients may have to go without if the funding model is not changed. Inside Community Living Timmins on Brousseau Avenue on Feb. 23, 2024. (Sergio Arangio/CTV News Northern Ontario)

In Timmins, many clients of the Community Living branch on Brousseau Avenue call the centre their second home – the agency offers daytime programming and a place where the participants are free to be themselves.

"(We) socialize with people, instead of staying home and doing nothing," said client Angie Secord-Ford.

"Do my projects every day," said another client Jason Tremblay.

"We have lunch together, we have friends that come here. So, that’s what we do."

Other clients may not attend the centre as often but participate in the agency’s programming at local pools and gyms.

"(We) do outings, do math, there’s learning skills," said client Robert Oreskouich.

"This is the best place around town."

Local officials told CTV News participants also learn to cook, paint and garden along with helping out the community and sometimes even travel to other towns for activities.

Services at risk

The agency staff said they have struggled to keep programs afloat.

"We’ve been cutting for years, in all the areas that we could cut," said Johanne Rondeau Community Living Timmins’ executive director.

"Now, we’re bare-bones."

Rondeau said the agency has not had a significant funding increase since 2010 and both costs and client needs are increasing – resulting in daytime programming and employment and foundational supports are in already in jeopardy.

A provincial group, OASIS (Ontario Agencies Supporting Individuals with Special Needs,) representing about 300 agencies like the Timmins centre said about 70,000 clients and their families stand to be affected by the loss of programming and support because of inflation and other cost increases.

"They provide quite an essential piece to a small part of the population and that’s at risk," said Robert Walsh, OASIS’ CEO.

"So, (now) what’s at risk is the health and safety of these individuals."

Robert Walsh the CEO of Ontario Agencies Supporting Individuals with Special Needs (OASIS). (Supplied/OASIS)

Staff at the Community Living Timmins said it is a heartbreaking notion as clients rely on these programs not only for aid but for human connection.

"COVID hit them hard and now we’re being told ... there’s a possibility that they can’t even come to this," said Manuel St. Jean, a support worker at the centre.

"It hurts me. This is their place, this is their gathering place. This is where they branch out from here. If they don’t have this, what do we have?"

Community Living Timmins' executive director Johanne Rondeau talks with CTV News about funding issues with the centre and the agency as a whole on Feb. 23, 2024. (Sergio Arangio/CTV News Northern Ontario)

Rondeau said she does not know what clients are going to do.

"I’m honestly very, very worried about that," she said.

Officials with the not-for-profit organization in Greater Sudbury told CTV News that the program has only seen a four per cent increase in funding over the last 30 years.

Trying to maintain the 'status quo'

The Community Living Ontario has started a ‘5 to Survive’ campaign in a bid to get the provincial government to increase funding by five per cent to ensure no more programming is lost and just maintain the status quo.

Officials with the agency told CTV News the Ministry of Children, Family and Social Services has told us it will work with agencies to manage their service pressures.

– With files from CTVNorthernOntario.ca journalist Ian Campbell

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