Bay Street, Charities Call for Government Relief Fund

Amanda Truscott
The Globe and Mail, December 19, 2008, p. A

Bay Street joined charities and anti-poverty activists yesterday in calling on the federal government to create a "recession relief fund" for agencies providing services to society's most vulnerable members.

It would prevent spending cuts to non-profit organizations that cater to children, the unemployed, seniors, people with disabilities, and other groups at risk in an economic crisis. It would also fund a national program to provide housing for the homeless. So far, the idea has been endorsed by 32 organizations.

The coalition has sent a letter requesting a meeting with government officials, and is awaiting a response.

Gail Nyberg, executive director of the Daily Bread Food Bank, said a better approach might be for Ottawa to direct money toward employment insurance and retraining, so there would be less need for charity.

"I would say to the government, 'for God's sake, restructure E.I., and look at your programs.' I mean, funding us seems, I don't know ... bizarre," she said.

But Cathy Crowe, a street nurse who provides health care for homeless people, said the need to fund such programs is increasingly acute. "We're seeing people that are hungry because there's not enough places that can provide enough food. We're seeing families that are with children that are really suffering."

She has been part of several anti-poverty coalitions over the past 20 years, but said she has never seen anything like the Recession Relief Coalition. "I've really never been at the formation of a coalition around housing and homelessness that happened in the boardrooms of Bay Street."

When Bay Streeters saw what was happening to stocks, they realized it would be hard to keep up with their charitable donations, she explained.

"I think, then, they're very sympathetic when a crisis like this happens and hits their bank accounts and their members, but then they also know that it's even worse for people living on the edge," she said.

John Andras, senior vice president of Research Capital, has been doing work on behalf of the homeless since 1993.

"I was talking with other advocates about three weeks ago about what we were seeing out on the street, and we were getting more and more concerned about the fact that funding levels appear to be dropping, the private sector is under extreme stress, both individually and through foundations and corporations, and that the governments have yet to announce their intentions."

Homeless shelters are already so full there isn't even time or space to fumigate for bedbugs, he said. Food banks in Toronto have seen demand rise by 13 per cent and donations fall by 15 per cent in the past year, Ms. Nyberg said.

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