By early spring, the Government of Canada had committed $359 million to help vulnerable Canadians through the pandemic. By Nov. 30, almost $2.9 million was working to sustain essential frontline services here at home.
As the immediate crisis deepened, mounting job losses, poverty and visible homelessness made it clear that people already close to the margins needed even more help now. The Federal government responded with the Seniors Response Fund and the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF)—then tapped United Way and area Community Foundations to deliver grants locally.
The priority: vulnerable people living in poverty, members of racialized communities, people experiencing homelessness and more.
It was good news at a tough time,and an opportunity to meet increasing demands at a variety of agencies who didn’t currently receive United Way funding. It was also an opportunity to fund new programs at partner agencies scrambling to meet emerging needs.
The John Howard Society of London District’s (JHS) pilot project was one of them. As provincial jails worked to maintain physical distancing during COVID-19, incarcerated persons near the end of their sentence were granted early release. Many had nowhere to go and ended up sleeping on the front porch or in the parking lot at JHS—a knock-on effect nobody could have envisioned.
JHS’s $150,000 ECSF grant provided wrap-around services including counselling, housing, reintegration supports and basic needs to help individuals safely re-join the community. The program helped 21 participants obtain housing.
Rural people experiencing homelessness in Elgin county faced similar difficulties. With few locations open and even fewer transportation options, simply getting to services was difficult. A $61,677 ECSF grant from United Way helped Central Community Health Centre launch a Mobile Unit to bring primary care services, harm reduction supplies, and basic needs to residents of St Thomas and Elgin County.
Low-income seniors got a much-needed boost too. Cheshire London and VON Middlesex Elgin, lead agencies for the Community Support Services Network, shared a $110,000 Seniors Response Fund grant. One call to the Community Support Services Central Intake system ensured that seniors were connected to supports and services close to home, including grocery delivery, prepared meals and transportation.
“Federal investments in these transformative programs were critical to ensure that rapid relief could reach those who needed it most,” says Kelly Ziegner, President & CEO, United Way Elgin Middlesex. “It was just one way we worked together to keep our region strong as we responded to the pandemic.”
In total, United Way Elgin Middlesex provided 33 organizations with Federal grants to meet high priority needs across the region. Granting decisions were coordinated with London Community Foundation, Aylmer Area Community Foundation and Elgin-St. Thomas Community Foundation to avoid duplication and meet the region’s most pressing needs.