An $100,000 provincial grant the City of Kelowna received to help people affected by the slowdown in the forestry sector has been directed as an investment into general community services, and not specifically the affected workers, as per the provincial guidelines.
In Sep. 2019, the province announced $69 million in various funding streams to support forestry workers impacted by a mill closure, including:
- An early retirement bridging program for older forest workers;
- A new short-term forest employment program
- Funding for workers to access skills training, and for employer and community grants for training;
- A job placement co-ordination office that will track the transition and employment of impacted forest works; and
- Community support grants aimed to provide short-term assistance to communities impacted by the closure of a major forest employer.
Eligible activities for use of the Community Support Grant, which the City of Kelowna received at the end of May, included financial support information services, community meetings or support for community services.
It did not include retraining facilities such as educational colleges, or career assistance. Instead, it was to be directed at organizations assisting whole "communities" impacted by the closure of a major forest employer, and not "individuals."
The grant was distributed to three different community organizations in Kelowna - $45,000 to the Kelowna Community Food Bank, $30,000 to the Elizabeth Fry Society and $25,000 to the Kelowna Community Resources (KCR) Crisis Line.
Grants and Special Projects Manager Lorna Wilson says many stakeholders were involved in the City's decision regarding where to direct the funding, including Tolko Industries.
"In smaller communities it is easier to directly tie this funding to the impact of a mill closure, however we met with Tolko, USW representatives, staff from Journey Home and then consulted directly with these community organizations to determine the best use of the funding."
Tolko Industries sent out letters directly to former workers, confirmed Wilson, informing them of where the City had distributed the grant funds to and how to access those organizations, as well as other Ministry supports, confirmed Wilson.
Castanet enquired with each of the organizations to ask how they will be spending the grant, and how they perceive their role in helping laid off workers from the mill.
Kelowna Community Food Bank: $45,000
The $45,000 grant received by the Kelowna Community Food Bank will go towards food purchasing, such as non-perishable food items or extra perishable items such as produce, milk, eggs and meat.
Job loss and the financial stress caused by that can very quickly lead to food insecurity, says chief development officer Tammie Watson.
"Whenever there's a large business closure or layoff that happens within city limits, we see a significant increase in community need for food bank assistance, and we're very sensitive to the needs of those in our community who are facing financial uncertainty and of course any type of food insecurities that might come along with that.
"We're extremely grateful for the support and the acknowledgement from the City of Kelowna, because they know as well that when large layoffs like this happen, it does make a difference to people in need, and that we are here for the community - for anyone who is ever in a position where they have food insecurity and are needing help with food."
Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society: $30,000
The $30,000 grant received by the Central Okanagan Elizabeth Fry Society will go towards additional staffing and resources for clients, such as phones to ensure connectivity for women in isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Executive director Michelle Novakowski says when job loss and financial stress arises, they see an increase in domestic and sexual violence, particularly in the midst of a disaster or pandemic.
"We are anticipating or we are aware that there are women at home because of COVID that are isolated, and people that have been laid off. It’s difficult right now to look at financial stress and what’s the difference between the forestry industry impact and the COVID impact, because they kind of come right on top of each other?
"One of the major impacts that will be on families that have increased financial stress is that domestic violence increases, and often in frequency and often in intensity and the level of violence.
"So right now, we’re very concerned. Our cases have stayed steady which is interesting because a lot of people are without contact, and we are anticipating that when things open up more and some of the people that have been laid off are gradually going to be going back to work that we’re going to be flooded, so that is our fear and we’re planning for that."
Kelowna Community Resources (KCR) Crisis Line: $25,000
The $25,000 grant received by the KCR Crisis Line will go towards funding the organization's vital crisis line support services, says director of services Katelin Mitchell.
Job loss can have a detrimental impact on various aspects of life, not just finances, and it is important workers who are vulnerable understand there are services to help, says Mitchell.
"As people who have lost their employment, that’s an incredibly stressful experience and so we are really hoping to be available for anyone to give us a call if they’re in crisis, or they’re feeling extremely stressed and looking to connect to resources. Our volunteers who answer the call, they’ll be able to show them empathy, provide them with information and resources and hopefully just help them manoeuvre through these incredibly stressful times.
"We know that when you’re looking for work, so many other things get affected. If you’re needing support with your loss of income, if you are needing to find something purposeful and meaningful to do, often you lose some of your social network ... there’s so many different aspects that are challenged when you lose employment, so we can address any of those things [through referrals] ... it really depends on what they’re needing.
"The city has been proactive and we will continue to be proactive about making sure that the laid off Tolko workers, or any other workers in the forestry sector, are aware of the supports that are here, so that they can access them, should they choose to do so."