Gravenhurst council has approved a funding request of $5,000 for the Urgent Needs Fund (UNF) run by United Way Simcoe Muskoka. Suzanne Prosser, relationship manager for United Way Simcoe Muskoka, presented at the March 21 Committee of the Whole meeting.
The fund has been in place since a 2019 restructuring of existing models, when local agencies suggested providing relief to individuals who were experiencing an emergency and had no means to address that crisis. After re-structuring and consideration of funding and how it impacts communities, the UNF was developed and it is “growing in leaps and bounds,” Prosser said.
“This goes beyond the day-to-day of these types of issues, it’s emergency situations, where people have reached a breaking point, they have nowhere to turn and they feel very hopeless,” Prosser said.
“It can be as small as someone needing a medication that is not covered by healthcare, it can be a medical aid to help them walk and they don’t have the funds for it, it can be for food, because you can’t buy the $8.99 butter. It can be clothing for kids, for families who are living in poverty, it can be a vehicle repair because at the end of the day, you only have $14 in your pocket until your next paycheque comes in and your car has broken down and you can’t get to wok, or your furnace is broken and your family is cold,” explained Prosser.
“There are people who are the ‘working poor’ that barely make ends meet week after week. These are the situations the UNF was developed for.”
Currently UNF has provided over $35,000 to help in situations like these.
“Funding and decision-making is done by research and statistics. We have seen concerns that
are growing, and growing in intensity across all regions, including Simcoe and Muskoka. We see that there are over 15,000 children in low-income households. And that is a pre-pandemic number, so if we look at today’s inflation costs and the effects of what covid has given to us, that number has definitely increased,” she said.
On a chart Prosser provided, she said a few numbers in particular are very concerning. First is that one in eight people don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Local statistics for youth through a mental health program that United Way Simcoe Muskoka helps fund indicates that “20% of our youth between the ages of 14 and 24 have contemplated suicide in 2022.” Prosser emphasized that those are just youth who contemplated suicide–not including those who actually did commit suicide.
Another startling statistic, Prosser said was that the Indigenous suicide rate is three times higher here than the provincial average, “so this something we need to be mindful of as far as diversity and acknowledgment of our Indigenous peoples.”
The final area Prosser discussed was social isolation, which she said has a very wide socio-economic scope, because that is not just people who may be seniors and shut-ins, it can be youth who are socially isolating themselves because of mental health issues, it can be people with disabilities who may not be able to get out to even go to a community centre to enjoy a hockey game. It is very stunning, Prosser said, “and it is relevant to all of society.”
“We are working with the District of Muskoka, who will accept the applications, go through the vetting process to make sure the applications are worthy of funding and then approve the micro-grants,” Prosser explained. The money is in the hands of recipients within 24-48 hours of approval.
Prosser said the partnership with the District has been especially helpful when they receive applications for amounts that are larger than what the micro-grants can fund. They have opportunities to help those individuals to access further funding via other resources so that their issue can be addressed. Prosser said that the agency has also become very collaborative with other local agencies, so that if they cannot fill a need, they will find a program that will.
She finished by mentioning some of the many programs they are administering or are in the process of beginning in the region, including Days of Caring, Indigenous Training program, a poverty simulation program for workplaces so that people “know what it’s like to have that $14 in your pocket.”
For more information about United Way Simcoe Muskoka, visit https://uwsimcoemuskoka.ca/ or phone 705-726-2301 x2021.
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