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Keenan Wellar Interview on 580 CFRA Discussing Community Living Ontario #5toSurvive Campaign

Listen to the original CFRA 580 audio-only here (share feature available) interview with Keenan Wellar, Co-Leader and Director of Communications at LiveWorkPlay with CFRA Live host Andrew Pinsent, or listen and view the captioned version below. You can also read a transcript below. You can also read the Community Living Ontario presentation to the Minister of Finance and/or support the campaign.

[Unofficial Transcript]

Over 100,000 Ontarians living with intellectual disabilities are currently in trouble. That includes LiveWorkPlay here in Ottawa and other agencies that support the community around the province.They haven’t received an increase in base funding in three decades, despite a 60 percent increase in cost of living over the course of those years.They say that and more needs to change as they are currently in a financial crisis.

Kenan Wellar is the co-leader and director of communications with LiveWorkPlay here in Ottawa. He joins me this morning to talk about this, good morning Keenan. Thanks so much.

Hi, thanks for having me.

And I know normally we’re, we’re talking about a little lighter topics, but this obviously a huge concern right now across the province. There’s a funding shortage. It’s making it tougher to deliver services.

There’s been closures of day supports, staffing issues. Is this a system that’s in crisis right now?I think that’s fair to say.

It’s one of the good things about us, our sector,¬† we go about our work quietly and deliver great outcomes.

I think if you look to the pandemic and how many sectors were impacted by that and there were a number of crises, how well we all came together and handled that, it wasn’t perfect, but you didn’t see a lot of stories about vulnerable people supported by our sector really, you know, being abandoned or not being supported through the pandemic.

So I think that was a good historical note on how well we do our work.

But you know, it’s just adding up when you go year after year after year. You are losing ground to inflation and there’s more work to do. So it’s both of those things together. It’s really squeezing people.

And I know even during the course of the COVID pandemic, we were concerned about a lot of agencies, but it feels like perhaps some of the, um, as you say, more quiet agencies kind of fell under the radar here. When it comes to just the simple funding formula here, I guess from the province, would you like to see some more money added to this immediately?

Yes, and that’s why we’ve got the #5toSurvive campaign that’s being organized by Community Living Ontario.

Which supports over 115 of the more than 350 agencies across Ontario with advocacy work at the provincial level.

So, they’ve got this going and we are supporting it as members of that confederation, but also other agencies that are not a part of Community Living Ontario, they’re facing the same issues. So we’re all very much united on this, that, we need a base funding or core budget¬† increase.

And I do want to say we really appreciate, you know, um, during the pandemic, the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services of the current government provided frontline staff with a $3 an hour wage increase, which was great, but you know, just looking at even, even that benefit, to organizations, it didn’t do anything to help us with all the costs of having staff, um, or every other cost that’s gone up, you know, everything from insurance to computers. Yeah, everyone knows all these things, but, you know, all of our costs are going up year after year after year after year, and we never get a base budget increase to help with that So there’s, there’s no solution to that other than you, um, you stop doing things,or you can’t hire staff. So that’s what’s happening.

Yeah, absolutely. Or services become, I guess less effective in their delivery. But, in terms of that base funding, as I mentioned, you’re looking for a 5 percent increase to the base funding here. But, you know, it seems like that’s not really a lot when we talk about, you know, it was probably just, 5 percent in inflation over the past couple of years.

It’s not a lot, and I think that’s the idea here is, let’s get something, reasonable and feasible in the short term and then really the part of the five to survive plan is and then let’s sit down and have a real conversation about sustainability because we can’t wait another thirty years and after five percent obviously we’re we’re way behind the eight ball at this point so it’s five to survive for a reason that it’s just to survive it gives us a chance to breathe and then we can sit down let’s have a conversation lets finally support this sector, you know, let’s index to inflation let’s take some steps that will prevent this sort of crisis from recurring because our work has only gone, gotten more difficult like every other sector we’re impacted by, you know, issues related to lack of housing and access to housing.

For example, the typical person that we would be supporting their, their monthly income will be about $1300 and that’s based on their Ontario disability support program pension because unemployment is about 80 percent of this population. So for many that pension is their only income. And we know in Ottawa, right, that if you could find a one bedroom for $1800, you’re doing pretty good. So they’re at minus $500 to start the month without any food, clothes, transportation.

So we’re also, now we’re in the business also of, you know, preventing homelessness, and dealing with people
who don’t have enough to eat.

So it’s gotten really complicated, more work to do, and no money to do it.

Right, and it makes even more sense that the five to survive is a very real scenario for many people here. And you kind of go beyond that in solutions as well. It’s not just that 5 percent base
funding, but also, staffing has been an issue among other things.

I mean, this is a people business.

So, if you look at, the various #5toSurvive you know, media postings and interviews across the province, this is the continuous issue is we need staff, and we need staff who stay on the job. It’s a relationships business. So, if we’re just constantly, you know, hiring people, it does not serve people well. It takes a long time to learn how to do this job well. You’re dealing with the health system, you’re dealing with police, there’s so much to learn, and we need people to stay. It’s really painful when we develop wonderful staff members, and they leave for other sectors where they have not had 30 years of, you know, stagnant base funding, it’s only natural people have to look after themselves.

So we’re losing out to education, health and other sectors where they have, a little bit more of a systemic approach to staying ahead of inflation in the systemic approach is actually something you want the province to do, right?

You’d like them to put together a blue ribbon task force to kind of look at what’s a sustainable funding model for this sector.

That would be wonderful.

I mean, this is just not, we don’t want, it’s not in our nature to, to be doing this sort of advocacy. We want to advocate for the advancement of inclusion in the community for people with intellectual disabilities.

This is not what we want to be doing, but we can’t do our work if we don’t have the funds to keep the lights on, so, that’s where we’re at.

We, we want to not be doing that.

And just go back to going about doing great work quietly.

But we need the funding to do that.

No kidding.

And we know the great work that LiveWorkPlay does here in Ottawa.

Keenan, I want to thank you for joining us this morning.I really appreciate it.

My pleasure.

And that is Kenan Wellar, he’s with LiveWorkPlay here in Ottawa, who helps with community living here in our region.

Your thoughts, welcome at 580 CFRA, Tweet us at CFRAOttawa.

Read the Community Living Ontario presentation to the Minister of Finance and/or support the campaign.