Demand for child special needs resources from PELASS runs higher in PEC

Prince Edward Lennox & Addington Social Services office in Picton. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)
OLIVIA TIMM

FOR THE GAZETTE

A Prince Edward County Councillor is wondering why despite only having a small portion of the array of children in the Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington catchment area, this municipality represents a whopping majority of child-based resources doled out by the local Social Services collective.

Several staff from Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington Social Services (PELASS) presented updated data and information at the regular council virtual meeting Tues. Feb. 23.One of the most “striking” statistics, according to Coun. Bill Roberts is while Prince Edward County parents and children account for only 30 per cent of the PELASS catchment area, 60 per cent of local children require special needs resourcing through social services.

“How the heck do we explain that? We need to do something,” he said.

Bill Roberts. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Pam Kent, Service System Manager of Children’s Services, said it means that more families are “potentially vulnerable for a variety of different reasons,” but that she doesn’t necessarily have an answer as to why it’s higher in Prince Edward County.

“Certainly we do see a lot and hear from our partners about food insecurity, and so there does seem to be a higher proportion of families who are struggling,” Kent said.

Across Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington counties, Kent’s presentation showed, there are 8,060 children registered between the ages of zero and 12. About 31 per cent of those children reside in Prince Edward County. Program data for 2021 showed there are two licensed child care centres in Prince Edward County, 120 childcare spaces, two licensed preschool or nursery schools, three licensed preschool spaces, five licensed school-aged programs, 269 licensed school-aged spaces and four home childcare providers. According to Kent’s presentation, roughly 33 per cent of families from Prince Edward County access fee subsidies for childcare.

“Although there are less children in Prince Edward County and less childcare spaces [than Lennox and Addington], there is a higher proportion of children who are more vulnerable or are needing additional supports to access licensed child care, so we spend about 58 to 62 per cent in Prince Edward County on special needs supports,” Kent explained.

The EarlyON program had 488 children and 508 parents registered as of 2019. Roberts asked what resources exist through PELASS to deal with the continued growth of children and families in need of childcare services especially in light of COVID-19 and the changes that may become permanent after the pandemic is over.

“My sense is we’re living in uncharted times with COVID and child care. I have been told that our HUB centre at Massassauga-Rednersville is full to capacity. The Picton HUB centre is at 60 plus and climbing. They are seeing more and more young families coming in at a real growth pattern,” he said.

Kent said through the Safe Restart federal funding stream, some costs are able to support child care throughout the pandemic.

“Many of the centres were not operating at full capacity, so we had funding to support them in those vacancies so they remained sustainable and viable when we are ready to get back to the ‘new normal’ whatever that looks like,” she shared. Funding also helped to support costs for personal protective equipment and additional staffing to support physical distancing, she added.

Connor Dorey, Housing Manager, also gave an update on the affordable housing crisis, assisting individuals facing homelessness and PELASS steps to combat issues in the future.

“As we move forward on finding strategies to deal with the housing issues that we face, it’s important to understand what housing services are involved or are currently out there, and ways they can be enhanced,” he said. Under housing services is Rent-Geared-to-Income (RGI) housing, affordable housing or attainable housing options and homelessness, he continued. Rent-geared-to-income is housing that is offered at 30 per cent of the household income and is offered three different ways.

“The local housing corporation which is PELASS. We directly operate 413 RGI units within the service area across 16 properties. Units include single units, family units and senior units,” Dorey explained.

In addition to the local housing corporation, there are six non-profit housing providers within the service area that do offer RGI units as well as market rent units. Three of these non-profit housing providers, he said, are within Prince Edward County and are supported financially through PELASS as well as through program and administrative assistance whenever an issue arises. Rent Supplement Programs are also in place, where payments are made directly to landlords on behalf of individuals or households who are in need.

“Approximately 150 agreements exist with housing providers for these rent supplements programs, Dorey said, and of that 150, approximately 30 per cent of those are within Prince Edward County and those numbers change monthly depending on the agreements that are held.”

Under RGI housing, Dorey said a home ownership program has been used to support low-to-mid-income households and the purchase of a first home through a forgivable loan, which goes toward the down payment.

Dorey said PELASS continues to support community partners who are working with those experiencing or are at risk of homelessness.

“We provide financial assistance to individuals in times of need to ensure they can maintain their residency. We look at other opportunities, whether it’s through emergency shelters that utilize hotels and motels to provide temporary relief for those individuals or transitional housing units,” he said.

Councillor Mike Harper. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

PELASS also works closely with the private market and community partners to enhance current builds, which Dorey said is looking to start this year, he said. Affordable housing builds and private-public partnerships to work with the private market and community partners to enhance builds. Dorey said PELASS staff aim to use local data and enhance services that are available.

“We want to strategically plan and find ways that we can define local data so we are making evidence-based decisions,” he said. “We want to modernize what housing can look like. In many instances, when we look at our directly operated buildings, they aren’t the most conducive for tenants so we want to be innovative and forward thinking.”

Coun. Mike Harper asked as PELASS works to modernize housing builds, what individuals can expect in regard to trends and housing types.

Dorey said the current portfolio of houses are typically older buildings that are coming to the end of their life span.

“In order to address this, we have developed a Housing Revitalization Plan that looks at the properties and classifies them into different categories – renovate, revitalize, redevelop or dispose,” he said. “We are starting to implement this plan with the goal of moving away from complexes that are social-housing-focused and finding mixed-use where we could have units in a building that are not only rent geared to income, but also units that are offered that are market rent or affordable rent.”

He said the provincial and federal governments are prioritizing modular housing, and as PELASS looks to revitalize their stock of homes, if funding opportunities arise, they should be ready to act. Data showed PELASS directly operates 115 Rent-Geared-to-Income units. Three non-profit housing providers who are supported through PELASS offer 117 units, 51 rent-supplement units are provided through agreements with private landlords and housing providers, and 13 affordable housing units were recently developed in partnership with private developers and community partners, he shared.

PELASS staff member Pat MacLean briefly updated statistics surrounding social assistance.

“When we think about social assistance, probably the largest component would be the Ontario Works program. When we look at the OW program, sort of look at two streams or two areas that work in tandem,” he said. The first stream, he said, being the benefits to financial support and the funds available. The other side of it being the case management supports addressing life stabilization. They work together in meeting the needs of some of the more vulnerable residents in both counties,” MacLean said.

Basic financial assistance addresses the costs or the needs around shelter, rent, mortgage payments, heat, hydro, anything related to residency costs, he continued. Basic financial assistance also covers food, clothing, toiletries, personal items, all of those things that are needed on a daily basis. Another stream of funding is employment assistance, which he said is tied directly to efforts toward employability. These costs go toward things like work boots, interview clothing, or textbooks and school supplies when individuals go back to school for upgrading.

“The benefits alone are no good without the case managers addressing areas of life stabilization. For residents in our counties facing barriers in life – whether it be mental health barriers, addictions, family support issues, being vulnerably housed – caseworkers will offer support that could be through coaching, cooperating, working with community partners to address the barriers, and using those funds to address some of those barriers,” he explained.

Other supports include the Consolidated Homeless Prevention Initiative which is a fund to address two specific needs; those are homeless to get housed and those that are housed but are at risk of losing their home.

Temporary care assistance is available through PELASS to individuals that are responsible for care for children that are not their own.

Emergency assistance is short-term individualized assistance for an unanticipated crisis. According to MacLean’s presentation, in 2021, the average Ontario Works caseload in Prince Edward County was 237 clients, which represents 25.8 per cent of the total PELASS Ontario Works caseload. In 2019, this figure was 254, or 27.6 per cent.

Prior to April 2020, the Picton office was averaging over 37 applications per month. Prior to COVID restrictions, the PELASS Picton office routinely received walk-in traffic from individuals seeking assistance accessing the on-site computers, fax machines, telephones, submitting applications or benefit details, rental payments and child care subsidy information.

PELASS staff work closely with a number of community groups such as the Situational Table, which is a risk-intervention model that brings front-line human service providers together to identify and intervene in situations of elevated risk, MacLean said.