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Merrymount seeking city help for ‘serious funding shortfall’

By _ CTV News

The executive director of the Merrymount Family Support Centre is blunt– the agency needs nearly $370,000 this year and $240,000 next year to prevent service cuts for local children and families in crisis.

The bridge funding will fill a financial shortfall until a plan for financial sustainability is fully in place in 2021.

Paul Howarth says, “If we close beds there are no other options for these children. Their families are experiencing crisis and emergencies.”

Among the agency’s budget pressures, an increased need for service driven by addiction and poverty in London.

There are also unexpected needs for a number of Yazidi refugees, about 400 of whom have settled in London.

Howarth says Merrymount is now filling a gap, “A number of them have children who were abducted by ISIS and trained to be child soldiers. And they have come into our community without any support system.”

Canada stepped in when thousands of Yazidis in northern Iraq and Syria faced genocide at the hands of ISIS. Many refugee families eventually settled in London.

A report by the Cross Cultural Learner Centre determined that many adults are survivors of sexual enslavement and torture, and some of their children were abducted by ISIS and forced to become child soldiers.

Now living in London, those children take part in a special therapy program at Merrymount.

“It’s called Playing with Rainbows. It uses art therapy and play therapy to help settle these children and integrate them into our society,” Howarth explains.

The timing of Merrymount’s request may add a complicating factor. The 2019 funding would have to come out of the current multi-year budget, the 2020 request from the next multi-year budget.

The mayor has sent a letter to council asking that Councillor Josh Morgan lead this year’s budget deliberations.

Morgan says the timing of Merrymount’s request would spread it over the last year of the current multi-year budget, and the first year of the next.

“We want to have a clean, independent process from the last multi-year budget to the new one.”

Morgan says council will have several options when considering the request, including referring it to a community grant process that uses an arm’s-length committee to divide up a set amount of money for qualifying funding requests.

“The program is a multi-million dollar granting process with multiple streams, both regular and innovation streams. It has both single-year and multi-year capacity within it.”

But Merrymount worries that granting process takes time and doesn’t guarantee funding.

According to Howarth, “We believe that our need is such that we can’t risk not being funded through that process.”

Merrymount’s Crisis Residential and Respite Program is at capacity every night and the 144-year-old group serves 8,000 families and 4,000 children every year.

Merrymount will make a presentation about its funding request to council members on Jan. 17.

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