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Council defeats motion to review social services funding model

Lethbridge city council turned down a motion to have an external evaluation of its Outreach Support Services Initiative (OSSI) funding model. The current system pools funding from federal and provincial grants, as well as the city’s social services budget, to be allocated to service providers by one group and approved by council. 

The motion would have requested an outside consultant evaluate the system and provide insight on potential risk and benefits of grants being managed by the municipality, versus an outside not-for-profit organization.

“I don’t believe we need to review the model at this time — we have got many years of experience in data with our previous model where we did have different groups, organizations making recommendations or the allocations,” said Coun. Jeff Carlson, who flagged the recommendation from the city’s Cultural and Social Standing Policy Committee to allocate up to $80,000 for the review. “I just think we are in too early days of the new system — we have had some reports at the committee level I believe council has seen that seemed very positive and the impacts we were having by doing more focus and trying to find efficiencies seemed to be having better outcomes.”

The motion failed with a 7-2 vote, with Mayor Blaine Hyggen and Coun. Jenn Schmidt-Rempel in favour. Schmidt-Rempel said she would like the city to look to Medicine Hat as an example for policy, which has claimed to eliminate homelessness.

“As it stands it seems to me the people we are trying to serve are still falling through the gaps as they get moved from one organization to another. Medicine Hat has a very nice, seamless process that I think we should be looking at,” she said. “No one is taking responsibility for these individuals and having one organization on housing and homelessness that we direct to hold all partner groups accountable will free up staff and administration time. It meets people where they are at and moves people through the system with them and that seems to be making better sense to me.”

The current system has been in place for about two years and is expected to have a formal committee to oversee grant allocation soon, according to Mike Fox, director of community services. He said conversations are at the committee level and will be on an agenda this month.

Hyggen also pointed to Medicine Hat’s way of dealing with housing and homelessness and said he would like to see the review so the city can find the best possible model. “To spend $80,000 and if we can get to that point of solving homelessness in the community in a similar way, I am all for it,” he said. “The cost for us to administer these funds is generally higher than what could happen from an external organization.”

Other councillors did not see the need to spend the money now, when the system is new and lacking data to compare with the one before it.

“The big thing people are forgetting about is that if you keep the same system in place you still have an opportunity to adjust it, it doesn’t mean it’s set in stone,” said Coun. Ryan Parker. “I just don’t think we need to allocate $80,000, I think we can do it internally in finding constant improvement.”

Carlson said he believes the current system is better serving the community than the previous one and he would like to see it develop more.

“If we rewind and go back and start splintering it off again, we may be again running around in all different directions and not seeing these outcomes for our community,” he said. “I am still open to seeing how it will work — everything I have seen so far and every question I have asked has said it is working well.”

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