At least three staff members will be without jobs in the New Year and hundreds in Scarborough’s east end seeking newcomer services will be affected by the federal government’s decision to cut settlement funding to Canada’s largest Black social service delivery agency.
Tropicana Community Services Organization (TCSO) is among 10 Toronto agencies whose funding has been axed. The organization, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, received a standard form letter from Citizenship & Immigration Canada (CIC) last month informing them that their funding will not be renewed.
TCSO has received close to $180,000 annually over the past 12 years to run the Immigration Settlement & Adaptation and the Job Search Workshop programs. The money was used to fund three staff members who provided settlement services assistance, ranging from filling out forms to job search workshops and income tax help to nearly 1,000 clients annually.
“This is a major blow to us even though we are not primarily a settlement agency,” said TCSO executive director Sharon Shelton. “These are targeted programs and we will have to make a decision soon whether we will remain in the settlement business.”
Shelton said TCSO is still waiting for an explanation from CIC.
“We have not received one as yet or even an acknowledgment of our inquiry letter,” she said.
Two staff members with about five years service and another, who has been on the job for six months, will lose their jobs because of the cuts.
The provincial government provides TCSO with settlement funds of about $35,000 annually.
The federal government is cutting funding to immigrant service agencies across Canada by $53 million this year, $43 million alone in this province that attracts the bulk of newcomers to Canada.
Kenney justified the cuts, saying the number of immigrants settling in Ontario has dropped in the last five years from 145,000 to 106,000. He said many newcomers are now settling in the Atlantic and western provinces.
“It used to be that Ontario received by far the largest share of immigrants,” said Kenney. “That has come down quite significantly for a number of reasons. One is economic opportunities in other parts of the country and another is the expansion of the provincial nominee programs which have finally allowed us to achieve the longstanding objective of a better distribution of immigrants across the country.
“The increase in settlement funding that we instituted when we came to office five years ago was based on the number of immigrants Ontario was receiving then and so we had to make some adjustments in the funding across Canada to ensure that the money is following the immigrants. Currently, we are funding about $3,400 per immigrant for settlement services, but in the rest of Canada, outside Quebec, we are funding $2,900 per immigrant.
“Ontario deserves their funding as do immigrants in the other provinces.
“What we are really trying to achieve here is effective and efficient investment in settlement services so that the taxpayers are getting bang for their buck and there’s fair funding across the country and indeed across Ontario.”
TCSO president Dr. Gervan Fearon is hopeful that the federal government will review its decision to cut settlement funding to his organization and others that support newcomers.
“Clearly, all governments have to be thoughtful about program expenditures, given their budgetary situations,” said Fearon, the dean of the Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. “That been said, it’s important for them to look at the program’s benefits and the importance they play in contributing to the building of an inclusive Canadian society. Newcomers who bring their skills, experience and human capital to Canada and this province need a period of transition before they are finally settled.”
The Jamaican Canadian Association (JCA) has settlement programs that are funded by the provincial government.
“We have been fighting to get federal assistance for several years since we receive a lot of requests from newcomers,” said JCA president Audrey Campbell.
Community worker Robert Brown, who died seven years ago, established Tropicana. While enrolled at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, Brown and a few other students were assigned a project that involved the preparation of a needs assessment survey of a community in southern Ontario.
The group chose the then Borough of Scarborough and, in conducting the survey, discovered that young people in the area faced serious challenges. Determined to act, the team quickly moved to prepare an audited report of its findings and solicit broad support for at-risk youths.
TCSO was set up in 1980 as a non-profit agency to serve disadvantaged youth and their families. Through its myriad diverse programs, the agency aims to increase the rate of self-employment for youth, improve access to culturally-appropriate counseling services and reduce the school drop-out rate among Black students.
Tropicana, which serves almost 15,000 clients annually, was the first Black member agency of the United Way in 1984 when it received $35,000 in funding. The agency now receives nearly $400,000 from the non-profit charity.
The three levels of government and private donors also contribute the majority of funding which is nearly $10 million annually. The agency is currently fund-raising to establish a Centre of Excellence. It has raised $600,000 and is seeking another $250,000 to make a down payment for its own facility.