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Special needs support services face risk of 'complete collapse'

Hopewell Children’s Homes CEO calls for ‘immediate and ongoing’ money sector-wide to help people with developmental disabilities and special needs

Without increased provincial funding, support services for people with developmental disabilities and special needs are at risk of "complete collapse," says the CEO of Guelph’s Hopewell Children’s Homes.

Maria Zegarac is calling for an immediate injection of $700,000 for Hopewell to increase supports needed for some of its more complex residents – it has eight locations in the region and services more than 200 children and adults – along with a five per cent or more annual funding increase for the developmental services sector as a whole.

“We are at a critical juncture for the developmental services industry, and we need immediate and ongoing funding from the government of Ontario to continue helping residents with developmental disabilities,” Zegarac said in a news release. 

“We’ve seen more charities and service agencies being forced to reduce or shut down services as costs continue to rise without a comparable increase in funding, which is placing even more pressure on an overstretched system.”

Zegarac’s request was delivered during pre-2024 provincial budget consultations.

Hopewell is far from alone in calling for a funding increase. During the past 13 years, provincial dollars have increased by only two per cent while the consumer price index has risen by more than 40 per cent.

“Agencies that have survived this funding drought have restructured their teams and sourced additional revenue in every way possible – but we are now at a breaking-point, and without additional provincial funding at this critical juncture, more agencies could face the threat of closure, with the complete collapse of the developmental services sector,” said Zegarac in the release.

Facing a projected $3 million deficit at the time, Community Living Guelph Wellington called off its day program and employment support initiatives in December, impacting hundreds of people throughout Guelph and Wellington county. 

Those programs were restored in January after the agency received additional funding from the province, but at this point the programs are only set to continue through to the end of March.

A five per cent base budget increase to all developmental services agencies – approximately $145 million sector-wide – would be in line with budget increases to similar sectors such as mental health and addictions, according to the Hopewell news release.

That money, it adds, would “stabilize services providing quality care to families and persons in need until a new funding model can be set in place in the future.”


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