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Thanks to a short-sighted business model of the BC Liberals, a valuable service that provides job training, employment opportunities and communication resources for up to 14,000 Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents may be forced to close its doors as of March 31. 

As a result of its Business Transformation Project (BTP), the Ministry of Social Development will cut funding for the employment programs of the Tradeworks Training Society—Pathways Information Centre and The Job Shop.  This “rationalization” of employment-related services will eliminate two programs that help about 3,000 people a year to find work.

The BTP is reducing the number of contracts province-wide from over 400 to less than 80. The BTP proposes to replace a variety of local services with “one stop shop” employment service centres using a fee-for-service model that will allow for-profit and U.S. companies to compete for funding.

A progressive model

Pathways Information Centre has been providing information, referrals and employment services to 14,000 DTES residents since 2003. The Job Shop is a 10-week return to work program that offers intensive daily job search support. Pathways provides vital services to this unique community through a successful, flexible model that focuses on accessibility, respect and responsiveness.

Many of the people we see at Pathways don’t fit the common model of employment services,” says Tony St-Pierre, an employment counselor at Pathways. Many clients, he explains, are homeless or disabled, or have addiction or mental health issues that make it difficult to find effective support towards employment.

We help people in a way that isn’t intimidating or uncomfortable,” says St-Pierre. “Our model is very simple: you come in, you tell us what you need, and we try to help as soon as possible.”

Pathways counselors provide referrals to 160 different services in the community and others outside.  Pathways’ services are available to anyone that walks through their doors at the intersection of Main & Hastings. This supports the integration of persons with disabilities into the community and the larger society.

People describe Pathways as the ‘office’ of the Downtown Eastside,” he says, noting that more than 200 people a day use the service. “It’s where people come to get things done.”

Pathways member Doug Elliott has been using the service every day for about a year. He says that Pathways helped him find work in warehousing and distribution, and a carpentry course through BCIT.

If people are looking for jobs, to be in touch, or just to have communication, they come here,” says Elliott, noting that he has also made connections with friends in the music industry through Pathways, leading to his participation in various benefit performances.

Asked what it would mean to him if Pathways had to close, Elliott says: “I wouldn’t be able to contact a lot of people who’ve given me employment, or signed me up for BCIT courses.”

A proven track record

Pathways has earned an enviable reputation in the DTES neighbourhood as having a proven and effective business model. For the past eight years, the program has exceeded all Ministry-mandated enrolment, assessment, referral and employment targets, says St-Pierre.

The official figure is that 150 people a year find full-time permanent jobs using this service, but that figure doesn’t include those who find contract work, part-time or short-term employment, or the others who get a job but don’t tell us.”

By cutting the $550,000 that pays for Pathways’ facilities, computers, and salaries for seven employees, he adds, the government will only create new problems when Pathways’ clients are left with no resources to seek employment.

The overall cost to taxpayers of closing Pathways down will be huge, and the government is using short-sighted thinking not to recognize this,” he says. “What happens when someone falls through the cracks? They’re going to cost more to taxpayers in jail, or with addictions or in the hospital.”

Pathways and the Job Shop represent 10 CUPE 1936-04 bargaining unit positions. Tradeworks is committed to finding a way to keep these services running. The organization is currently researching options and encouraging the Ministry of Social Development to support Pathways as a special resource in the DTES.

It is extremely encouraging to see an employer advocating for its employees and its members,” says Cheryl Colborne, CUPE’s coordinator for community social services. “Pathways caters to the needs of a unique demographic. They know how to effectively reach DTES residents and DTES residents know and trust the staff at Pathways. That can’t be replaced.”

ACTION: Please write to your local MP or MLA, or to the cabinet ministers responsible, to voice your support for these programs: Honourable Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada: diane.finley@parl.gc.ca and Honourable Stephanie Cadieux, Minister of Social Development for the Province of British Columbia: sd.minister@gov.bc.ca.