County of St. Paul and Elk Point FCSS has received a grant to help people experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of becoming homeless.
According to director Janice Fodchuk, the grant is a federal grant of $28,200 which is being administered by the province over the next three months.
She said in the week since they announced receiving the grant, they’ve already had four referrals, all from families in different parts of the County of St. Paul.
“So we’ve been able to hire an outreach worker for that time,” said Fodchuk.
“The imminent risk is what we’re hearing a lot from people because they don’t qualify for SFI, Supports for Independence, because to receive that you can’t have RRSPs, their vehicle can’t be worth more than X amount of dollars, all that stuff,” said Fodchuk.
“So our goal is to take the referrals and even if they don’t meet the grant qualifications, we’re still going to help them maneuver through the process. And what I mean by that is they need to have explored all other options,” said Fodchuk.
“So we’re not going to say to them, oh sorry you don’t qualify for the grant. We’re going to help them apply for SFI if they’re eligible, or subsidized daycare, or any supports that are available provincially and federally and we’re going to make sure that they know how to access them.”
To facilitate that, Fodchuk said her outreach worker is compiling a resource binder with information about all the different social assistance programs available to people living in Alberta, something which she said is challenging because there has been a lot of changes to the programs over the years.
“It’s a very fluid situation with the resources and the supports and the programs changing all the time,” she said, noting Alberta Supports is still not open for in-person visits, which is challenging for their clients because the cell phone is one of the first utilities to be cut off and computer and Internet access remains a barrier for many in rural Alberta.
She said the way this grant has been designed, they’re able to help with rent and utility arrears, but not mortgages.
“The way the grant is designed I’m not able to buy gift cards and we have to pay money directly to the service providers,” said Fodchuk. She explained that logistically, it takes a bit of time to establish, but it’s a good thing for accountability because they know the money has been spent on the utility or rent arrears.
According to Fodchuk, the community is really starting to see the crunch since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. Initially, many people were able to defer their mortgage payments, but the banks aren’t allowing that anymore.
“It’s really hitting people hard now. Before I think that they were able to kind of get by on CERB and whatever. But now I think the mental health issues, anxiety, whatever you want to call it, is at the forefront. And so that’s why we have to help people get whatever services support that they need to get through this,” said Fodchuk.
According to Fodchuk, their subsidized Community Counselling program has seen an increase of about 30 per cent in usage since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
“The other thing we’ve seen a lot of is not so much unemployment, but underemployment. So they’re working, but their hours have been cut. Or they were laid off from say a good-paying welding job and now they’re working at a gas station or a grocery store.”
Asked how long it takes from when someone is referred to their program to when the money starts flowing, Fodchuk said it depends on the situation, but they hope to see money for the people they are currently working with by next week, two weeks from when the program launched.
She said she hopes that FCSS will do a good job with this grant and be able to get more funding to continue helping people in the future.