Category Archives: Masters2018_1

Ottawa Public Library sees corporate donations as way of the future

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Alex Kurial

The Ottawa Public Library recently unveiled a new music rental program at two of its branches in an effort to expand the type of educational services it offers to the community.

The measure was sponsored by life insurance titan Sun Life Financial, who orchestrated the initiative through a $140,000 donation to the Ottawa Public Library last year.

The Sun Life Financial Musical Instrument Lending Library will be operational at the Main and Nepean Centrepointe branches of the library.

Reaction to the new program was largely positive, with commenters expressing their joy that they would be able to try, for free, what is often a very expensive pursuit. Ottawa joined several other Canadian cities, including Vancouver, in offering this service to its community.

Why the library decided to turn to a major corporation to finance its goals remains unresolved however. Especially in the wake of a budget increase from the city of Ottawa last year.

The library received an extra 1.494 million dollars from the city under its 2018 budget report. Yet Ottawa Public Library still took the step of seeking out financial backing from a life insurance company, whilst prominently displaying their name at its branches.

Councilor Marianne Wilkinson, who sits on the Ottawa Public Library board, didn’t see a problem with the decision to seek out corporate backing.

“Yes there definitely is,” the councilor responded when asked if there is a future between libraries and private companies seeking to pitch in large amounts of money. “There are corporations that support libraries… Definitely there’s a place for business within libraries.”

Despite the six figure donation, it appears that the partnership with Sun Life came with stipulations. Wilkinson revealed that many of the better instruments are for display purposes only.

“There were some pretty good ones [instruments] that they put on display,” she said. “But they’re not available to borrow.”

This forced the library to turn to a donation drive to seek help from the community in fleshing out their musical instrument goals. Fortunately for the library this was fairly successful, although there were still some issues.

“They got quite a few donated ones,” Wilkinson explained. “They’re not always in the best condition.”

The Ottawa Public Library certainly was not willing to speak on the matter. Despite repeated attempts for a statement on the choice to seek corporate funding, or regarding the music rental program itself, the only insight offered was a link to information numbers on the library’s website.

“I’m afraid we have no one available to answer your questions personally,” was the brief response received by Communications Strategist Rachael Duplisea.

Library books have plenty of available room for ad space.

Councilor Wilkinson also revealed that this wasn’t the first time the library had turned to outside help to fund its efforts.

“We’ve had particular support from the American embassy for the 3D printers,” Wilkinson explained. The embassy also helped to fund the “makerspace”, an innovative center within the library designed to encourage critical thinking endeavors.

For now it’s clear that the Ottawa Public Library is intent on pursuing all available funding options available to them, no matter where they might come from.

Families with children fear city-run early years services could fall flat

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The most vulnerable families and children in Ottawa feel left out of free government services. Meanwhile, the city’s plans to meet the needs of children under six and caregivers are still up in the air, even after a big budget boost.

City councillors voted in favour of a seven-fold budget increase for early years children and family services just weeks before the city began taking over previously provincially provided programs. But the municipal government could find themselves scrambling to fill a void, based on analysis of the 2018 city budget approved in December.

Helen Muleme is a registered practical nurse with two kids, a four-month-old and a four-year-old. So far, Muleme has been thrilled with weekly playgroups and workshops on feeding, car-seat safety, and lactation.

However, the mother of two fears for the future of early years services under the city’s control given her experience of the complicated child care registry and long wait times. “It makes me think that they won’t run the programs properly,” Muleme said. “It makes me nervous for moms who may not get as good of service.”

Photo provided by Helen Muleme. Helen Muleme and her four-year-old son Ashe are concerned that the city will fail to properly deliver child and family services previously run by the province.
Helen Muleme, pictured with her four-year-old son Ashe, is concerned that the city will fail to properly deliver child and family services previously run by the province. Photo provided by Helen Muleme.

The City of Ottawa did not clarify exactly how the transfer will play out, but there are no plans for new centres. All city officials and experts in relevant committees and departments who were reached declined interviews. City spokespeople issued statements attributed to the manager of children’s services by email.

The province did not respond to questions by publication. But ministry cited some Ottawa parents who may rely on playgroups, pregnancy tips and parenting resources are being squeezed out due to the dismal reach of services.

Some caregivers who used child and family service centres raised accessibility troubles. Public input collected by the city last year indicated programs were held too far away and at inconvenient times. Respondents reported lack of playgroup availability and being turned away upon arrival due to capacity.

Ottawa is home to seven Ontario early years centres, plus satellite sites, who get municipal money in addition funds from the province.

The city injected $8.45-million more into the 2018 budget for early year centres before taking the reins from the province, according to a budget analysis. The municipal government agreed to bump up the budget for ministry-approved programs by 700 per cent from 2017 to 2018, which includes a one-time $9.6-million booster from the province.

City of Ottawa 2018 budget numbers for legislated early years and family programs. Graphic by Dana Hatherly.

The city began taking over responsibilities for early years child and family programs after the Ontario government announced in the fall to surrender service delivery. That brought an end to provincial funding which previously went directly to 13 not-for-profits who continue to run existing centres across Ottawa.

City spokespeople said that the province will continue to fund the city’s coffers. Jason Sabourin, manager of city-run children’s services, said the city will not need to foot any added costs. Future funding levels from the province are not expected to go down.

The difference is that now money will go through the municipality before it reaches the centres. Even with the city in control, all legislated programs must meet specific ministry-approved criteria in order to be dubbed under this new brand. All participating programs must operate at least five days a week, year-round.

The two governments are under a one-year deadline, which was extended to the end of 2019, to complete the transition.

“It makes me nervous for moms who may not get as good of service” – Helen Muleme, Ottawa parent

The city estimates that there are about 70,000 children under six living in Ottawa, based on the Canada census. Historically, many parents have not participated in child and family programs offered across the province. The province and city each recognize that services in Ottawa must adapt as community needs change and demands on families go up.

Moving forward with a provincial election underway this spring, parents and children hope the city snags steady funding and a solid plan to serve them.

No more waiting games for low income families seeking childcare

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Low-income families will no longer be weighed down by waitlists that determine their ability to access affordable childcare.

According to an analysis of the 2018 city budget, an additional 1,500 families in Ottawa are estimated have access to subsidized daycare after the city made efforts to reduce the wait times for financial supports.

“We’re confident that with the changes there won’t be any waiting lists in Ottawa to access subsidies,” said Coun. Mathieu Fleury, who sits on the committee responsible for all community and social services budgeting.

City council approved an additional $17.9 million for the fee subsidy budget this year, a 28% increase from 2017.

Licensed childcare centres had to raise their daycare fees to offset the extra costs from Ontario’s rising minimum wage. Jason Sabourin, Ottawa’s children’s services manager, said the fee subsidies were needed to help families cope with these additional costs.

Families are expected to receive subsidies as high as $12 thousand.

A better educational experience for low-income children

The way subsidies are allocated have also changed, said Fleury. Previously funding was allocated through a specific daycare, meaning a parent did not have the liberty of switching childcare centres because they would lose their financial aid.

Funding is now assigned to the family directly and follows them between neighbourhoods.

Early childcare educator Helene Legault  said this change gives families the option of removing their children from poor-quality daycares. They are no longer dependent on locations with short subsidy waiting lists because the financial support sticks to their record.

According to Legault, children in the high-income neighbourhoods have greater learning opportunities because their daycares can  afford more field trips and creative activities.

“I’m hoping that all children will have better experiences across the board,” she said.

More money more problems

The rise in fee subsidies belong to a series of financial increases for the early childcare sector that the provincial government announced in 2017.

In an Ottawa town hall held earlier this month, Premier Kathleen Wynne said that the Ontario government is working with cities across the province to create 100,000 new childcare spaces.

After parents receive their subsidy they are put on a second waiting list until a spot in one of the institutions opens up. The additional spaces will help reduce that second waiting list.

An additional $2.9 million was allocated to Ottawa for the project, reducing the waitlist by an estimated 170 families.

 Early childcare educators are skeptical about the increases, saying they will lack the resources to accommodate growing classrooms.

“Usually our classes get bigger but we see no pay hike for the extra workload,” said Legault.

Legault noted that more children with special needs will given placements but there are no extra funds to help support them. More resources are needed for trained experts like psychologists, she said.

Pat Dickson, an early childhood educator, said that on some days a kid with special needs will have a meltdown so intense that the rest of the class needs to be evacuated until the child calms down.

“The violence in our school is beyond our control and there is very little learning going on in that classroom,” she said. “We are making sure that that little child who needs assistance is getting it at the expense of every other child in that classroom. They dumped them in but with no support.”

The provincial government transferred $6.7 million dollars worth of its early childcare budget and decision making powers to Ottawa, said Saboruin.

The municipal government is now in charge of services like playgroups, workshops, and referral services that benefit children from infancy to age six, meaning parents and daycare workers like Legault could get a greater say into the early care of their children.

Ottawa Public Library plans to roll out $750,000 bookmobile in 2019

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This Ottawa Public Library bookmobile vehicle, parked in front of the Overbook Community Centre, will be retired at the end of 2018. According to the city’s capital budget documents, it will cost $750,000 to replace the bookmobile over the next two years. /PHOTO BY OLIVIA ROBINSON

BY OLIVIA ROBINSON

The Ottawa Public Library is set to replace an aging bookmobile vehicle in the next year, an investment, the library says, is long overdue.

According to the city’s 2018 capital budget, the Ottawa Public Library will spend over $750,000 on a new bookmobile over the next two years, in order to maintain its current schedule and not to limit service to its community.

The city of Ottawa’s operating resource budget for 2018 set aside $155,000 again in this year on fleet services, a 0 per cent change from its 2017 budget, however an analysis of the Ottawa Public Library library’s tax-supported documents reveals the city is instead reducing its spending on fixed assets by $224,000 so that it can offset the high repair costs associated with the bookmobile procured in 2005.

Additionally, the city will still foot the bill for a new, $750,000 bookmobile, according to its capital budget. The library details that $150,000 will be spent on the new vehicle in 2018, with the remaining $600,000 to be doled out the following year.

“The cost is based on a previous bookmobile purchase in 2015,” said Anna Basile, Division Manager at the Ottawa Public Library of the bookmobile’s price tag.

Basile said that there are many outside factors to consider in the bookmobile purchase, such as inflation since the last time a bookmobile was purchased, and the value of the Canadian dollar compared to the American dollar since the bookmobiles are purchased from the United States.

Coun. Marianne Wilkinson, an Ottawa Public Library board member who sits on a special bookmobile sub-committee said that patrons would have limited access to library services were it not the four-wheeled library’s visits.

“We want to make sure that these Ottawa Public Library services are accessible to as many people as possible. And that’s not just an actual library,” she said.

Since 1953, Ottawa has been rolling out upgrades to its bookmobile program. Its current fleet consists of two campers and one-minivan. Through the bookmobile service, patrons can access WiFi, a mobile makerspace, DVDs, as well as a large selection of books English- and French- language books. The campers are custom-built, complete with specialty shelving units, book trolleys, and a check-out desk.

Source: Report to Ottawa Public Library Board: Alternative Services Delivery Framework 2016-2020 (September 14, 2015)

The Ottawa Public Library’s bookmobile program runs from Monday to Saturday and makes 25 stops during the week. Some rural stops include Vars and Carlsbad Springs, where residents would otherwise have to drive almost 20 kilometres to reach a library branch, far beyond a walkable distance.

“We examine stop locations approximately every two years, and recently launched three new pilot stops in vulnerable communities,” said Alexandra Yarrow, Manager of Alternative Services at the Ottawa Public Library in an emailed statement.

Ottawa’s aging population is considerable cause for concern that the bookmobile program be fully operational, said Wilkinson. The soon-to-be replaced bookmobile is in constant need of repairs.

When the bookmobile breaks down, the service is temporarily replaced by one of the library’s minivans, or mini-bookmobiles. One of the main issues in replacing the bookmobile with the minivan, is that unlike the bookmobile, the minivan is not wheelchair accessible, said Wilkinson.

In a Nov. 7, 2017 report submitted by Monique Désormeaux, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Ottawa Public Library, the library stated that the new bookmobile will “promote literacy and learning through programming.”

Wilkinson echoed the library’s position that the bookmobile program is also essential to bring library services to low-income housing and immigrant families.

“We are trying to encourage reading. It’s important for children to get them to learn the language,” Wilkinson said.

The new bookmobile will be put into circulation sometime in 2019.

New paramedic hires won’t keep pace with growing demand

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14 paramedics will be hired this year to support increased demand on the paramedic service.

These new hires follow 24 paramedics brought on in 2017. Since 2016, new recruits have cost the city an additional 13 per cent in salaries, according to an analysis of budget information the City of Ottawa has made available online.

Darryl Wilton, president of the Ottawa Paramedic Association, isn’t convinced this hiring strategy goes far enough.

“Those 24 paramedics and the 14 added this year, we know they’re not enough, because we can trend our increase in call volume,” Wilton said. “It is mathematically not enough paramedics to keep pace with call volume.”

Photo courtesy of Darryl Wilton, Ottawa Paramedic Association.

Wilton estimates that the paramedic service responded to roughly 140,000 calls in 2017. The five-year trend demonstrates a 17 per cent increase in calls, according to an analysis of the Ottawa Paramedic Service 2016 annual report.

Marc-Antoine Deschamps, paramedic superintendent, expects demand on the paramedic service will continue to rise.

“Ottawa’s a growing city, there’s more and more population,” Deschamps said. “They’re aging, they get sicker, and they require more and more of our services. That’s a pressure that’s being felt across our entire healthcare system.”

“If our call volume keeps increasing, we’ll need more paramedics to keep up,” Deschamps added.

Provincial and council approved mandates require that paramedics respond to life-threatening calls within 8 minutes, 75 per cent of the time. This target has not been met since 2015, according to a 2016 report.

Although the paramedic service hasn’t officially reported their response time figures for 2017, Coun. Riley Brockington, vice-chair of the City of Ottawa Community and Protective Service Committee, said mid-year reports suggested the 24 additional paramedics were having an “immediate impact” on response times.

“We have seen a direct correlation between investments in more staff and ambulance vehicles and their ability to get to people quickly,” Coun. Brockington said.

Coun. Brockington, who is an economist, acknowledges the possibility that factors other than the 24 new hires could explain the anecdotal reduction in response times. For example, weather or traffic changes could have helped ambulances get to their destinations faster.

“I think it’s fair to say that [it] is a reasonable conclusion,” he rationalised. “I point to other services across the province where there was an investment in staff and the response times almost immediately improved.”

Changes to another key metric are less encouraging. According to Coun. Brockington, the city ran out of ambulances 290 times in 2017, almost a daily occurrence. A “level zero,” is called when no ambulances are available to respond to a 911 call. Level zero alerts increased 13% since 2016, despite 24 new paramedic hires. There were 256 level zero alerts in 2016.

Photo courtesy of Darryl Wilton, Ottawa Paramedic Association.

Coun. Brockington clarified that code zero emergencies are a complicated metric that can’t be addressed through hiring alone. Instead, ambulance availability depends on the length of time it takes hospital emergency rooms to see patients – a figure largely outside of paramedic control.

“Until a nurse or doctor takes the patient, the paramedic has to stay there. Some are there for hours. When we have our paramedics waiting with patients in urgent care facilities or hospitals, there are times when there are no available ambulances.”

When asked what kind of investment would guarantee demand be met, Darryl Wilton replied, “Definitely more than what you’re seeing on the docket. Definitely more than 14.”

“I think what’s important is that we clearly indicate need, and then it becomes council’s decision as to whether or not they’re going to fund that need,” Wilton said.

Hiring for the new recruits has already begun. Deschamps expects the 14 new paramedics to hit the streets in July.

Councillors uninformed of $4.7-million surplus in Social Services budget

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Ottawa was gifted a $4.7-million surplus towards social services by the Ontario government – and nobody on the receiving end knows why.

The provincial government is projected to fully fund the Social Services branch’s ‘Council Priorities’ category in 2018 – an increase from 97.2 per cent last year, according to figures in Ottawa’s 2018 municipal draft budget.

The funding is filed under the ambiguous category, ‘provincial upload.’ The City’s media relations department did not respond to a request for a financial breakdown.

The ‘Council Priorities’ amount makes up $5.2 million of increased revenue over last year, or 43 per cent of this year’s total change in revenue of $12.2-million. Based on the tabled 2018 draft budget, the extra revenue will be reinvested in the 2018 Social Services budget, lowering the branch’s net spending by over 15 per cent compared to 2017.

Coun. Riley Brockington, vice-chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee, appeared to be unaware of the surplus.

“It’s odd that the City would be able to make such a significant increase on its own, because we get our funding from taxpayers and we’re trying to keep things at two per cent,” he said.

Presented with the budget table, Brockington declined to comment on the numbers. He said he was unfamiliar with the finances of the committee – one for which he is vice-chair.

“Usually these questions are sent to our city staff – they’re the experts in that subject matter and they can give you a very detailed explanation,” he said. “I really need to send this chart to social services – I need to get staff to explain before I can do an interview.”

Coun. Diane Deans chairs the Community and Protective Services Committee. She was unwilling to comment on the Committee’s 2018 budget after multiple attempts to contact her office by phone, email and in person.

Similarly, the office of Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the Community and Protective Services Committee, asked that budget questions be sent to the City’s media relations department. Deans was unwilling to give comment after multiple attempts to contact her office by phone, email and in person.

READ: Ontario Works Program opens eligibility to thousands more applicants

Looking over the budget tables, Christopher Waddell said the Social Service’s branch’s financial activity is based largely on the Ontario Works program, whose eligibility criteria was expanded in September 2017.

“If they’ve changed the rules so that more people can apply, it’s logical to think that they would then increase the amount of money that’s available, because they expect more people are going to be applying,” said the Carty Chair in Business and Financial Journalism at Carleton University.

Christopher Waddell is the Carty Chair in Business and Financial Journalism at Carleton University. (Courtesy photo)

The social assistance program is run by the province. Funds are distributed through various city councils, including Ottawa’s.

Given the approaching provincial election in June, there may be other motivations behind the Ontario government’s gift.

“That may let more people benefit [from the Ontario Works funding] and people may think, ‘Well, that’s a good reason to re-elect these guys,’” Waddell said.

“Now [the City] will take that four-million and spend it on something else for sure, but that’s what it is.”

 

According to Christopher Waddell, Carty Chair in Business and Financial Journalism at Carleton University, the province’s $12.2-million investment in the Community and Protective Services Committee was directed towards accommodating a growth in the Ottawa chapter of the Ontario Works social assistance program. Ottawa is forecasted to pocket $4.7-million of unused funds originally intended for the program.

Does Waddell have any ideas before the final funding amount is revealed by the provincial budget in the spring?

“One thing that everybody seems to be talking about and worried about is that the O-Train might be running over budget. So anything they can do on that front, it may go up there. But who knows – it’s a big piece of the pie, and this is a little tiny sliver of it.”

Simone Thibault is the executive director of Centretown Community Health Centre. (Photo courtesy Canadian Association of Community Health Centres)

In times of increasing need for social supports, news of the multi-million dollar funding comes unexpectedly to social service organizations.

Simone Thibault is the executive director of Centretown Community Health Centre. She had not been aware of the surplus, and the news is encouraging for her organization.

“I’m very surprised!” Thibault exclaimed. “It would be interesting to see where that came from.”

Thibault would use a portion of funds to train her social support workers, who serve LGBTQ refugees, opioid addicts, street youth, those with severe mental illness, and many others with diverse needs.

“I think we’re at a tipping point in the city,” Thibault said. “Beyond the housing crisis, we have a social support crisis, because all of the community social service agencies – whether it’s [Centretown Community Health Centre] or our partners – are struggling to keep up with demand and are under-resourced – badly.

“We are the nation’s capital – we have the opportunity to show how we’re a compassionate, caring city, and we need to come together.”

Funding amounts will be confirmed when the provincial government releases its 2018 operating budget by April.

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Transit service budget increase paves way to bus services expansion  

 

BY BENJAMIN MUSAMPA

 

 

The City of Ottawa transit customer system and planning budget increased by 25 per cent from last year as many OC Transpo suburban commuters brace for the optimized transit services amid Stage 1 of the O-Train Confederation Line completion later this year.

Since Dec. 27 2017, transit commuters, particularly those living in suburban like Kanata, Riverside South and Orléans, have access to increased transit services with 20 new bus routes and 17 more double-decker buses.

Sandrine Kan a Kanata’s resident who works in Ottawa centretown welcomes these recent developments. In fact, the adding of the bus route 256 Brdlewood last December make her life much easier.

“The bus route’s expansion in my neighborhood makes my commuting to Ottawa much easier in the sense that several buses routes are available at the Eagleson Park and Ride,” she said.

“Two years ago when I first moved to Kanata, I used to drive my car and park it at the Eagleson Park &Ride.” she added

“I only walk five minutes from my house to get the bus […] and always get to work on time as the bus frequency operates every fifteen minutes starting at 6:06 am and ends at 6:14 pm.”

In November 2018, the city announced an overall transit budget hike of 2.5 per cent from last year. Although, a 25 per cent rise was recorded from 2017 budget for money allocated to the Transit customer system and planning program.

This is the largest increase for this program over the last three years.

Source: Transportation Services Operating Budget, 2018, City of Ottawa

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson observed that the increased spending on transit is justified by the necessity to accommodate suburban residents and other commuters with a reliable public transit system amid the launching of the Confederation Line later this year.

“All the construction development downtown requires a lot of planning as we must find a way to deal with the congested area.” said Wilkinson

“Obviously, the planning and operational costs went up since we purchased more buses in back up after noticing that several buses broke down during rush hours periods this year.” she added.

The actual budget plans to spend $50.4 million to replace 80 life-expired buses. OC Transpo also spent $9 million on traffic optimizing technologies to ensure enhanced mobility for buses around the city.

With the increased spending, transit users are having to foot the bill. Regular fares had risen by roughly 2.5 per cent since Jan 1. The price for an adult monthly pass is now $116.50, up from $113.75 and $207.50 for a U-Pass (up from $202.50).

The regular fares increase will help finance the completion of the Confederation valued at more than $550 million.

This $2.1-billion LRG project is believed to be the solution to address the saturation of public transportation in the downtown area and highways during peak hours. This new project is also expected to engender sustainable economic, environmental and social benefits for the city.

A study completed by the City of Ottawa in 2017 asserts that without the Light Rail Transit tunnel LRT we would need to send an articulated bus down through the downtown at a rate of 1 every 18 seconds. This is considering that Ottawa’s population is projected to grow 30 percent by 2031 according to that same study.

Although the bus routes expansion will benefit residents in growing areas like Kanata and Riverside South, the Confederation Line is expected to increase the sustainability and reliability of the city public transit system.

 

 

Ottawa police staff rates stuck in 2012, despite 25 new officers

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The Ottawa Police Service will bolster its front lines with 25 new officers in 2018, but it won’t be enough to keep pace with the demands of climbing gang violence and population rates, according to the president of the Police Association and an analysis of city budget posted online.

This year’s projected budget features a $12 million increase in frontline police operations, a 14 per cent rise from last year’s total. Staffing costs account for 82 percent of the force’s overall operating budget, and the hiring of the officers alone will amount to an estimated $2 million in added frontline spending.

The new hires come at the end of a three-year staffing plan that will have seen a total of 75 new officers sworn in by the end of the year.

But according to Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, these staff increases should be taken with a grain of salt.

“When [the city] says they’re adding 75 new officers … that’s misleading,” said Skof. “They’re really returning 75 new officers into the fold that they had already shrunk from the service.”

Between 2012 and 2015, the city tightened its belt on police deployment. Now, with demands on the force mounting, Skof claims the city is having to play catch-up. “By the end of 2018, we’ll be back to 2012 levels of staffing,” he said.

But things have changed since 2012. The population in Ottawa has grown by nearly 6 per cent from 2011 to 2016 according to the latest census, and 13 shootings in a vicious January have heightened concerns over gang-related gun violence.

Yearly increases in population per police members in Ottawa.

To make matters more difficult, new policies have made the daily tasks of police officers more complicated. According to Skof, the amount of time needed to complete calls has gone up exponentially since 2010. “What would have taken one or two hours is now taking four to eight hours,” said Skof. “So now we’re stretched even further.

Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, who chairs the police services board, pointed to programs included in the budget that were designed to take pressure off the front lines. One such program provides new Tasers for frontline officers (along with all-important training updates for their use). Another is the Direct Response Action Team (DART), which works to control Ottawa’s guns and gangs. The small unit will gain two of the 25 new officers this year.

Guns and gangs were the biggest issues on the table at Monday’s Police Services Board at City Hall. “The gun violence we have seen since the start of the year is our top priority,” said Chief Charles Bordeleau. On the weekend prior to the board meeting, frontline officers conducted more than 40 compliance checks and made 30 patrols of “problem addresses” linked to gang members, said Bordeleau.

Skof wants to see more of this proactivity, but is worried that resources are too thin to get ahead of gun violence on a regular basis. “To be proactive is one thing, but we’re not even being proactive. We’re reacting to gun crimes.”

Skof thinks a fundamental problem needs solving: budget limits need to be set with public safety in mind, instead of politics. Because fewer police calls were made, and crime rates decreased in recent years, the city could justify cutbacks, he said.

“That’s a myth, and again, it’s very misleading.

The violent Crime Severity Index went up by 15 per cent in Ottawa from 2015 to 2016. Nationwide, gang-related and shooting homicides have trended up in recent years.

There were 141 reportedly gang-related homicides in 2016, an increase of 45 (in both percent and number) reported in 2015. It was the second straight year that gang-related homicides rose, after a period of decrease from 2011 to 2014. Ontario led the way in this crime category, with 24 more gang related homicides in 2016 than in the previous year.

Pick up or pay up: Ottawa Public Library rolls out new restocking fee

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Hundreds of books, DVDs, and materials are sorted and placed on reserve in the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library.

The Ottawa Public Library is encouraging patrons to pick up after themselves, by introducing a new $1.00 fee.

The new restocking fee rolled out last month, and is a part of a fee adjustment plan outlined in the Ottawa Public Library 2018 Operations Budget.

According to Ottawa Public Library spokesperson, Monique Brûlé, the restocking fee was not implemented to generate revenue for the library, but rather to improve wait times and increase user satisfaction.

Library expert Amber Lannon, of the MacOdrum Library, said that although levying a fee to promote library use sounds counter-intuitive, the fee is likely to increase user access. She said that by forcing people to pick up their books, the Ottawa Public Library is promoting, “fair and equitable access to the collection for everyone.”

But library users have mixed feelings about the new fee.

An Ottawa Public Library user who wished to go unnamed, said, “If I start getting nicked for missing holds, then I will definitely have to stop using the hold system, and thus the library.”

Several library users have expressed concern about what to do when multiple items placed on reserve show up on the same day. One library user commented, “I put a ton of books on hold, and do my best to manage them, but sometimes a half dozen or so show up at once. Often, I’ve not been able to pick them up on time. Since this new $1.00 fee, I have been cancelling holds—which I’d say has decreased my overall usage of the library.”

The plan to implement restocking fees goes as far back as 2016. Minutes of the Ottawa Public Library Board meeting states that The Board approved the new fees in December 2016. The adjusted fee schedule was intended to start in 2017, but was delayed until the following year in order to, “align with new cash handling equipment, policies, and procedures.”

Councillor Marianne Wilkinson who serves on the Ottawa Public Library Board said when books aren’t picked up, it slows down the whole system. Wilkinson said, “If people order a book and it comes in, and they don’t pick it up after a certain number of days, then we have to send it back. Some books have a line-up.”

In fact, some books have nearly one-thousand users waiting for a copy. The Ottawa Public Library released a list of the most requested books last week, and Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff landed at the top with 960 requests.

Wilkinson said, “When you put something on hold, you are hindering other people from getting that book.”

Ottawa Public Library Board posing with library books: Cn. Tim Tierney,  André Bergeron,  Cn. Maryanne Wilkinson (centre), Kathy Fisher, and Steven Begg.

Beyond long wait times, when a book isn’t picked up, it will need to be re-shelved which Wilkinson believes is a waste of resources. “We have to send the book back to our operations. That’s an extra trip for people, picking up, and carrying, and hauling back and forth unnecessarily.”  In addition, drivers must go between branches all across Ottawa. Long hours can pose a problem for the unionized staff and volunteer drivers.

“The library is limited under union contracts in how many volunteer staff they can employ,” said Wilkerson.

Wilkinson said that the restocking fee will not even begin to cover the cost of transportation or labour. “That’s beside the point,” she said. “We didn’t do it for that. We did it to keep people aware that they’ve asked something and need to follow through. They put a fee in to deter people from not picking up their books. If you don’t pick it up, then you’re making it more difficult for the library to provided services.”

Gimme shelter

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Ottawa’s Budget 2018 provides more than $200 million to help City end homelessness by 2024

 The City of Ottawa is waging war on homelessness as the number of homeless Ottawa individuals and families continues to rise.

Through its Budget 2018, the City is providing an arsenal of $201.5 million to combat homelessness and boost supportive and affordable housing. This is a $3.8 million increase over 2017.

“It is an increase this year and everything helps,” says Marianne Wilkinson, Councillor for Kanata North and a former Chair of Ottawa Community Housing Corporation’s Board of Directors. “The City takes the issue of homelessness and the cost of housing to low-income residents very seriously.”

 As you read through Budget 2018 website’s Affordable housing and homelessness and Housing budget highlights, numbers leap off the page and come to life. It’s easy to envision a construction crew erecting the frame of a house, to smell the fresh scent of cedar boards and to hear the shrill sound of nails being hammered. All in support of the homeless.

 The City’s Community and Protective Services Department’s Operating Budget has, for example, earmarked $30 million from the Province of Ontario, over three years, for the Home for Good program. The goals are to create 150 supportive housing units and help 310 households find and maintain affordable housing.

A total of $14.4 million in federal and provincial funding will support the Investment in Affordable Housing program – a 48 percent surge from 2017. Also, a $760,000 increase over last year’s budget totals $26.3 million for housing and for homelessness agencies.

Budget 2018 supports Ottawa’s 10 Year Housing and Homelessness Plan to end local homelessness by 2024. The Plan is a long-term commitment to reduce shelter stays to under 30 days. A 40 percent savings in funding to emergency shelters is expected to result.

The City “is constantly working to add affordable housing, maintain existing affordable housing and ensure that services are available,” says Wilkinson.

The numbers tell the story. More than 10,000 Ottawa households are waiting for subsidized housing, according to the Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa.

The alliance’s 2016 Progress Report points out that, across the city, some 22,000 households that rent spend more than one-half of their income on rent and utilities. These people are deemed to be at major risk of losing their homes.

The City’s housing shelters also represent stark statistics. In 2016, close to 7,200 people stayed at a local shelter, according to the alliance’s report. Overall, this number was up 5.2 per cent from 2015. However, the number of families that used a shelter soared by 12.5 per cent.

Ottawa’s Shepherds of Good Hope is one of nine organizations funded by the City’s Housing Services branch, that offer emergency shelter services and interim housing programs city-wide.

Founded in 1983, Shepherds of Good Hope provides 24/7, comprehensive services through its 254-bed shelter and five supportive living residences. Each night, the organization houses more than 450 men and women. Most of these people live with addictions, mental health challenges and trauma.

According to Lindy Rosko, Shepherds of Good Hope’s senior manager, Supportive Housing, Budget 2018 “provides a three percent increase to its per diems. This amounts to $1.53 per day.”

The funding increase is allocated for Shepherds of Good Hope’s three residential services programs. These housing programs support meals, housekeeping, and medication management. “People of low income require these supports in order to live independently.”

Rosko says the additional funding “allows us to keep up with cost of living increases, so that we can keep the level of service we currently provide.”

Looking ahead, Wilkinson says, “We need to continue to provide support and housing options. But what has been done in the last few years is helping and is a step forward.”

(Note: In-person interviews were not possible, as Councillor Wilkinson was travelling and Shepherds of Good Hope required longer lead time.)

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 Photo caption:

Kanata North Councillor Marianne Wilkinson is shown serving meals during the Salvation Army Ottawa Booth Centre’s Annual Community Christmas Dinner, held December 9, 2017.  (Credit: Salvation Army Area Director of Public Relations Glenn van Gulik)