Direct some city social funding to citizen-driven initiatives

In light of chronic under-funding of social services by the City of Ottawa, we believe that social spending should be restored to traditional channels and enhanced through the additional funding of local citizen-driven initiatives, such as localized social councils.

Carleton University’s Centre for Urban Research and Education (CURE) recently completed an analysis of the City of Ottawa’s budget trends showing that spending on social programs in Ottawa lags behind other budget items.

Since 2009, Ottawa has had the first or second highest median income of any metropolitan region in Canada. In addition, Ottawa has the fourth-highest home prices, which gives it the benefit of a rich tax base to properly fund social programs.

However, compared to spending on policing and protective services, and parks, recreation and health, spending on community and social services is much lower and has increased at a slower rate. In relative spending and per capita terms, it has declined.  This is in spite of an increasing population and a demonstrated need from vulnerable individuals, as indicated by the number of families seeking income assistance.

The analysis found disproportionately lower increases in Ottawa’s annual spending in the area of social services and support to vulnerable populations.  This situation has created a series of challenges for Overbrook as increased spending on social services is required to address issues created by existing socioeconomic and educational gaps, especially impacting youth.

A previous crime report that focused on Overbrook noted that “youth not attending school” has been a significant predictor of overall criminal activity, including minor property crime and drug offenses. Statistics show that 65 percent of all crime in Ward 13 in Ottawa are committed by youth, which is higher than the city average, and that nearly 20 percent of Overbrook residents do not have a high school diploma.

Another recent study found that on average, 14 per cent fewer students who attended four Ottawa high schools with the highest proportion of low-income students met the Grade 10 literacy standard compared to those attending four schools with the lowest proportion of low-income students.

Due to these factors, it is self-evident that funding for social service programming must be restored in the Overbrook neighbourhood, but new funding models in addition to this restored funding must be considered.  We would hope the City considers providing seed funding to localized social action councils.

Social action councils are specifically designed to increase citizen participation in community development in order to combat poverty and increase social inclusion.  They are grassroot organizations that provide for ancillary social service delivery directed by residents.

Social action councils work with individuals and groups to plan and implement projects or activities that improve or expand vital social services, come up with new ways to solve difficult problems, and improve the quality of life for citizens; especially those who are excluded and marginalized. Councils will be involved in organizing meetings, identifying problems, finding resources, bringing the right people to the table and supporting the many talented individuals and organizations in our community in making things better.

The mandate for social action councils are therefore to catalyze “social action projects”. Social action projects are carried out by individuals or groups of people working together for the good of others.

The objective of such projects are to bring about social change that will benefit communities in a holistic fashion. Projects will engage with issues such as access to political participation, the environment, climate change, community cohesion, livelihoods and education.

Projects will typically give participants a deeper understanding of the cultural and social issues that affect their neighbourhoods. Projects will identify and engage networks that will help achieve collective community goals, especially concerning poverty alleviation.

According to recent statistics, Overbrook was one of the least socioeconomically advantaged neighbourhoods in Ottawa. Personal and property crime rates are also higher than the city average.

The goal of “social action projects” in Overbrook will be to strategically target some of these problems and apply social entrepreneurial and business consultancy methodologies to address them. Community partners will advise on potential sources of funding and or project participants.  Through a Council for Social Action in Overbrook, the neighbourhood will be able address action items including increasing after-school homework help for children throughout the neighbourhood and establishing a Free Store on a regular basis.  As a consequence, we implore the City to consider setting aside a modest amount in its budget ($5,000) to pilot project the concept of a localized social action council in Overbrook.  Such funding could be administered by the local community resource centre.