A successful community is a healthy community: one in which all stakeholders work together with the common goal of improving the lot in life for all residents.
CONTACT Community Services has been an integral part of ensuring that those in need throughout the South Simcoe region get the support they require to thrive. CONTACT is focused on employment and housing. It is a ‘go to’ partner for many other organizations, including municipal administrations, for various community and economic development initiatives.
The organization serves Bradford West Gwillimbury and the South Simcoe communities of New Tecumseth, Essa, Adjala-Tosorontio, and Innisfil.
CONTACT relies on funding from the federal and provincial governments, bequests and individual donations from residents and funding from the United Way. About 25 per cent of operating funding comes from their own charitable thrift stores, called The Clothes Line.
“We have continually adapted our programming needs to best serve our communities since the organization was incorporated [in New Tecumseh] in 1979. We are the primary information centre and referral point for many services, which is critical for people in the community looking to connect with those resources. For example, we provide direct services for securing employment, including interview skills, job coaching, mentoring resume workshops and more,” said Emily McIntosh, Executive Director of CONTACT Community Services.
“Our housing services, focus on facilitating access to financial assistance to retain housing or secure housing and assisting people with house searches. A landlord specialist works directly with landlords to help support them in housing some of the clients that we work with, because many have unique needs and may have experienced homelessness for a number of years and require more support and understanding from the landlord.”
According to their latest statistics, more than 3,500 residents are supported annually through CONTACT’s various programs and services. In 2021, 897 households were aided with housing needs, 292 households were stabilized through critical financial programs, and 695 residents supported with housing needs.
One of the most significant and prominent programs offered through CONTACT is the volunteer-run Clothes Line thrift stores. The original location at 55 Victoria Street West in Alliston was augmented by a second location in December 2021 at 95 Holland Street West, Unit 2 in Bradford.
According to the CONTACT website, “the Clothes Line provides a valuable community service by recycling gently used clothing, small household goods, electronics, toys, and books. The Clothes Line also works with many local community organizations to supply free clothing and household goods to those in need. Proceeds raised by The Clothes Line help support CONTACT’s various programs/services.”
It took nearly 1,000 volunteer hours to set up and run the Bradford location, with 11 local businesses supporting the launch, and 3,900 community members offering donations. Over their very short tenure thus far, 113 individuals were provided with free clothing, The Alliston branch made just over $200,000 in revenue in 2021, all of which contributed to the operation of CONTACT.
McIntosh said they are currently looking for a suitable site within one of the five municipalities in their coverage area for a third Clothes Line location.
As a charitable organization, the vast majority of the on-the-ground activities, programs and services are delivered and even administered by a dedicated corps of volunteers. The organization itself is managed by a volunteer board of directors. Their commitment to the mandate and values of CONTACT is, in McIntosh’s view, crucial to the significant impact the organization has had on its member communities, including BWG, over the years.
“I do believe that the strength of CONTACT is its volunteers. Our two Clothes Line stores are 90 per cent volunteer-run. A lot of people see that as a drawback, but I see it as our biggest strength because it means we are plugged in to our communities and that there is automatic buy-in for the work we do and an intrinsic understanding of how critical it is,” she said, adding that the buy-in also extends to the municipal leadership of the five communities comprising CONTACT’s catchment area.
“We have very strong relationships with all of our municipalities because that’s absolutely critical to ensure that the services are being delivered to those in need. I can say that the Town of BWG is such a pleasure to work with. The priorities of their residents are clearly communicated and moved on very swiftly. I think they’re an incredibly responsive municipality, and I have seen some amazing leadership from their council and specifically Mayor [Rob] Keffer when it comes to advocacy around affordable housing.”
Tangible examples of the co-operation between the BWG administration, including the Economic Development department, and CONTACT include the rapid response to a call for emergency financial assistance at the beginning of the global COVID-19 pandemic, partnership on employment initiatives such as job fairs, the commitment to work with CONTACT and the local chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness, as well as consistent conversations about BWG’s employment, housing and social service needs.
“Our partnerships are crucial to our appropriate and timely delivery of services. Bradford is an extremely collaborative community, and frankly, it’s a joy to work in that community. It’s very grass roots. It’s not pretentious; people leave their egos at the door to come together to find a common solution, which is something I really admire,” McIntosh said, adding that currently they are working to expand and broaden their base of volunteers in the wake of a return to somewhat normalcy as the pandemic abates.
“We work with volunteers from all walks of life. We work with people who have special needs, and that might be about mental or physical health needs. We work with newcomers where English is their second or even third language and they’re struggling to adapt. We work with people who face multiple barriers to entering the workforce and need that volunteer experience. We also work with people who are referred to us through probation, as well as seniors, youth and everyone in between.”
Moving forward, McIntosh said that CONTACT continues to strive to be as responsive and effective at meeting community needs as possible, which means keeping their collective ‘ears to the ground’ for the latest trends in employment, housing or other social service sectors that could benefit residents in need.
“When it comes to our employment services, we found through the COVID crisis that a lot of people want to revisit their career path. So, we want to make sure that we’re well versed and up to date in supporting that. We know that there is a need for employees in the skilled trades, so we want to make sure we’re funneling people to the right place to meet the needs of local employers, as well as the needs of potential employees,” she explained.
“With housing, we operate the local hotel voucher program, because the shelter system is not appropriate for some people and we will continue to monitor the housing needs of residents and continue to advocate for more affordable housing. Ultimately, we will do what we can to continue helping people find housing, get into that housing and retain that housing over the longer term.”
CONTACT is also involved in a collaborative project with the South Simcoe Chapter of the Simcoe County Alliance to End Homelessness to offer free or affordable furniture items to people who are accessing housing. And CONTACT administers a discreet, safe needle exchange program at its Alliston head office (39 Victoria Street).
“One of our newer programs, that we’re very excited about, is with a local optometrist in Bradford (Sunny Braich of Bradford Eyecare) to provide vision care for low-income residents, called the Bradford 20/20 program,” said McIntosh.
For more information on the wide array of programs and services offered by CONTACT Community Services, visit https://www.contactcommunityservices.ca.