Candidates get an earful from Community Connections

Seven Council candidates got an earful from Community Connections staff this week over the gradually eroded relationship between the social service agency and the City. City Council candidates (counterclockwise from the back left) Pat Wells, Phil Welock, Gary Starling, Jody Simm, Chris Johnston and Steve Bender met with Community Connections Executive Director Gayle Morgan and her staff on Monday. Not shown is Councillor Tony Scarcella who arrived later. David F. Rooney photo

By David F. Rooney

Seven Council candidates got an earful from Community Connections staff this week over the gradually eroded relationship between the social service agency and the City.

Community Connections’ Executive Director Gayle Morgan had asked candidates to meet with the agency because staff believe social services are ignored by the City.

With a budget of $3.8 million last year and a staff of 60, Community Connections is among the Top 10 employers in Revelstoke and provides the bulk of the social service programs open to individuals and families in need. Its programs and services are funded in part by Community Living British Columbia, the Ministry of Children and Family Development; the Ministry of Community Services, CAPC Federal Funds; the Columbia Basin Trust; the Ministry of the Attorney General; the City, Community Futures; the Revelstoke Community Foundation; the United Way; BC Lottery Corporation; Revelstoke Hospital Auxiliary and a variety of community and corporate donors. But funding is always an issue.

“We do not receive any direct funding from the City although the youth used to receive $25,000 for its summer camps,” Morgan said. But that was more than years ago when financial pressures on the City were relatively moderate and the grant-in-aid program from which that money came had $34,000 in the kitty — not the $10,000 or $15,000 it has today.

The city does, however, contribute bus and Aquatic Centre passes to Community Connections for distribution to disadvantaged families and individuals.

While it was obvious that Community Connections would appreciate any additional financial support the City can provide, the real issue was the eroded relationship between the two.

Complaints by Kelly Riguedell, coordinator of Community Living Services for Adults, summarized some of the problems the agency experiences when it deals with the City.

“I think the City had done a crappy job of the Handi-Dart System,” she said, listing a battery of problems from the lack of schedules and erratic service to the condition of sidewalks at bus stops. Deeply cracked sidewalks that swallow the wheels of seniors’ walkers and wheelchairs are deterrents, as is their height. They’re to high for anyone in a wheelchair to safely negotiate them.

But what frosts Riguedell — and many other staff — is the unresponsiveness shown by municipal bureaucrats when Community Connections makes a complaint.

“We’re told there’s a process we have to follow and are directed to different people and then nothing happens,” she said.

Complaints from Community Connections don’t even reach the City’s Social Development Committee, let alone City Councillors.

Incumbent Councillors Johnston, Welock and Bender were alarmed by the agency’s allegations. “We’ve heard none of this,” they said with Welock urging its staff to contact Council directly when they have a complaint.

“There seems to be a real lack of communications here,” said Johnston. “A lot of what we’re hearing here is new to us.”

Starling suggested creating time slots during which the Handi-Dart must be at locations such as Mount Begbie Manor and the Seniors’ Centre. That may well be a workable solution for the Handi-Dart problem, but the breakdown in communications between the two has reached the point where “Community Connection is being mined for data” but is otherwise disregarded.

“We hear all the time about economic drivers and tax cuts but social planning isn’t happening,” Morgan said.

As far as candidate Pat Wells is concerned, Community Connections can (and does) contribute to the creation of “made-in-Revelstoke solutions.”

“I think the City has been remiss in not addressing social needs,” he said. “Made-in-Revelstoke solutions are unique and we know they work.”

Fellow challenger Gary Starling agreed and said part of the problem may be “the City’s focus on planning for a future of growth (stemming from resort development) that hasn’t happened” instead of the issues facing people right now.