Allies and employees of St. Matthew’s House warn that a decision by Hamilton City Council to move funding for services for children with special needs to another agency could sound the death knell for other vital services in North Hamilton – and an end to St. Matthew’s itself.
On August 12, Hamilton City Council voted to move funding from the city’s Special Needs Resourcing Services to Community Living Hamilton, the developmental services agency. But St. Matthew’s service providers and users believe that the loss of funding will make St. Matthew’s House unviable as a multi-service community agency and that it will struggle to pay the bills that allow it to run all its other services.
St. Matthew’s House operates in a neighbourhood that was identified by the Hamilton Spectator’s “Code Red Report” as being one of the poorest in the country.
For nearly 30 years, St. Matthew’s has operated an integration program for children with special needs in the region’s day care centres. Funded through Hamilton’s Special Needs Resourcing Services, this program has been the cornerstone for other services that St. Matthew’s House provides. It acted as an “anchor” for other community services, including an annual summer camp program, an emergency food program, transitional and sustainable housing for seniors, and mental health and street outreach services.
Earlier this year, the agency celebrated the reopening of its renovated child care centre and larger premises for its food bank.
“I don’t believe that Hamilton’s councillors meant to put St. Matthew’s existence at risk, or deal a blow to the other children, families, and seniors who rely on the myriad services St. Matthew’s provides,” said Marie Cantwell, president of Local 5105 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
“But that’s what could happen unless councillors reverse their decision and restore funding for St. Matthew’s Early Childhood Integration Support Services for children with special needs.”
Cantwell pointed out that if St. Matthew’s closes, North Hamilton residents stand to lose not just the food bank and child care centre, but also a housing program for seniors, income tax and legal clinics for people on low incomes, and the adopt-a-family Christmas program. Forty frontline workers – who specialize in child care for children with special needs and represent 60 per cent of St. Matthew’s workers – will also lose their jobs.
Supporters of St. Matthew’s House have begun canvassing city councillors, calling on them to restore Special Needs Resourcing Services funding to St. Matthew’s House. Cantwell herself will address councillors on the topic at two city committee meetings: the General Issues Committee (Wednesday, September 7 at 9:30 a.m.) and the Emergency and Community Services Committee (Monday, September 12 at 1:30 p.m.).
For more information, please contact:
President, CUPE 5105