Charities and non-profits in trouble seek federal support

Canadian charities and non-profit organizations devastated by the pandemic are looking to the federal government to help keep their doors open.

Operations including YMCA, Friendship Centres and the United Way say they are seeing a decline in revenues and an increase in the needs of the people they serve, putting child care, employment, housing, after-school, domestic violence and food programs in jeopardy.

“It has been absolutely dramatic, sudden, devastating,” said Susan Phillips, professor in the philanthropy and non-profit leadership program at Carleton University. “Those working in Black, racialized and vulnerable communities for whom the impact of COVID has been most significant, were severely underfunded to start with.” 

About 86,000 charities in Canada, or 50 per cent, have suffered revenue losses, according to Phillips. She says many will not survive.

There have already been several closures, including some YMCA operations and Boys and Girls Clubs.

“We’re most likely to lose the smaller organizations to start with. They were dependent on volunteers. They didn’t have significant reserves, and they were incredibly vulnerable,” said Phillips. 

Urban Indigenous services 

When the pandemic hit a year ago, food insecurity was one of the biggest problems for Indigenous people living in towns and cities across the country, says Jocelyn Formsma, executive director of the National Association of Friendship Centres in Ottawa.

The inability to hold bingos, powwows and galas to raise money for services has had a significant impact on their finances, she said. 

“Right now, with the Indigenous Community Support Fund, we expect that we would be able to continue to provide support until about May or June,” said Formsma. “After that, there’s a big question mark.”

She said the centre might have to close its doors temporarily until it can recover. 

The other problem, according to Formsma, is the interconnection between organizations such as hers, the United Way, and YMCA that are all struggling at the same time. 

“It’s a bit of a ripple effect, right? When one is affected, the rest of the community supports are affected.” 

Request for federal money

Charitable and non-profit groups have been able to take advantage of wage and rent subsidy programs, which some say have helped keep them afloat, but more is needed.

The United Way and its partners are asking for bridge funding from the federal government called the Community Services COVID Relief Program, that could cost between $500 and $700 million.

“[It’s] an 18-month program, temporary funding to support essential operating costs of organizations that will give them a bridge into the future,” said Dan Clement, President and CEO of the United Way.

The proposal has been sent to the federal finance department in pre-budget submissions. The budget is set to be announced on April 19.

“We’re grateful for the various provincial and federal programs, but there is a gap,” said Bob Gallagher, president of the YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region. “The charitable sector is that razor thin edge responding to the most urgent of our community needs to the most vulnerable in our community.” 

Sector has been ‘overlooked’

Pre-pandemic, the YMCA-YWCA in the Ottawa area employed 703 full- and part-time staff, the majority women. Now it has 270 workers. 

The YMCA’s Centretown location used to house 323 people every night, but during COVID-19, it can only allow beds for about 123 clients. It’s currently offering just 45 per cent of its child-care services, but Gallagher says it costs about 130 per cent more for extra staffing, cleaners, and personal protective equipment.

“However, child care, we all believe, and certainly the ‘Y’ believes, is an essential service required for the rebound of our economy,” said Gallagher. 

Beyond the request for more government money, there are also calls for the sector to build back better, by modernizing technology. 

A statement to CBC from Employment and Social Development Canada says that Minister Ahmed Hussen is continuing his work to ensure charities and non-profits have the tools they need to modernize as they emerge from the pandemic. The department said the minister is engaging with non-profits to figure out next steps.

“We need regulatory reform. We need funding reform. We just we need public awareness and we need donors to step up. Now’s the time,” said professor Phillips. “We’ve come to see the inequities in our society and it’s time for systemic change to address those.”

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