Recession sends Ontarians to food banks in record numbers: report

December 1, 2009

By Mark Brownlee


Oasis of food. Photo: Britt Harvey

The economic downturn has forced Ontario residents to use food banks more than ever before.

According to a report issued Tuesday by the Ontario Association of Food Banks, over 375,000 Ontarians use food banks each month, a 19 per cent rise since the fall of 2008.

Ottawa posted one of the largest provincial increases in food bank use, jumping two per cent in 2008 and about ten per cent in 2009.

“There is little doubt that it has been our most difficult year in a generation,” wrote Adam Spence, the report’s author and the association’s executive director.

The report comes just one day after Statistics Canada reported that the Canadian economy posted a 0.1 per cent gain in the third quarter of this year, which technically means the recession is over.

But the food bank report says that Ontario residents are still feeling the effects of the recession. Only one-third of people using food banks in the province are either currently employed in full- or part-time jobs or were employed in the last six months.

“The shocking numbers offer a front line reality that is a counterpoint to the green shoots and leading economic indicators that point to a ‘technical’ end to the recession,” wrote Spence.


City moves to modernize parking meters, raise more cash

December 1, 2009

By Adam Hooper

Parking meter

Parking meters count down, whereas tickets from pay stations show the time at which they expire. Photo: Adam Hooper

Ottawa will start replacing parking meters with solar-powered pay stations Wednesday pending a City council vote which is expected to increase parking revenues by $1.7 million.

The new stations will be provided by Precise ParkLink Inc. There will only be a few in operation over the winter as the company makes sure they can handle the cold weather. If all goes well, about 600 could be installed in the coming years.

Under the new system, which has already been put into place in Montreal, customers can go to a terminal, pay for parking in advance, and do not have to return to the car to place a ticket or marker. The location of the car and its “paid-until” status is memorized by the system.

The initial phase will see Ottawa’s few existing pay stations in the ByWard Market replaced with the new solar-powered devices. On Tuesday the new machines were already standing next to their soon-to-be-obsolete brethren, covered by thick bags pending final approval.

Aline Brunet, from St-Jérôme, Que., saw benefits to the new system, having used pay stations in Montreal. “Nobody has to go running after each meter to collect money, so it should be good,” she said, after deciphering the old English-only instructions on the old meters.

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City hopes new technology will reduce the amount of salt on roads

November 24, 2009

By Mark Brownlee

Rock salt. Photo: Chris Ferguson

The City of Ottawa is hoping new technology will help reduce the adverse effects of salt spreading on roads during the winter months.

The new technology, consisting of a black box with antennas that attaches to each snowplow, will tell city officials how much salt has been set down and which roads have been covered by transmitting data from each plow to a central system.

“Salting is our first defence against winter storms,” said Councillor Maria McRae, chair of the transportation committee in a statement issued Tuesday. “With this technology, we can better manage what we spread while maintaining safe roadways for motorists.”

City officials say the global positioning system (GPS) technology could reduce the amount of salt used on city roads by as much as 13,300 tonnes. That could save the city as much as $1 million each year.
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Pilot project highlights homelessness, more needed

November 24, 2009

By Chris Ferguson

A couple supported by the Ottawa mission in the ByWard Market. Photo provided courtesy of the Ottawa Mission.

Advocates for Ottawa’s homeless hope a new nationwide research project will help people get off the city’s streets.

The $110 million pilot project, led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, will study the relationship between mental illness and homelessness.

“We’re hopeful that their research will demonstrate what those of us who work in the field already know,” said Marion Wright, chair of Ottawa’s local Alliance to End Homelessness.

The project will provide 1,325 homeless Canadians with supportive housing to determine how best to help people who are homeless and suffering from mental illness. The participants will live on their own but receive regular visits from counsellors and maintain contact with support services.

The cities of Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver will take part, and the project will run until 2013.

Wright said although the study doesn’t include Ottawa, the need for supportive housing is dire in the city. She says Ottawa’s waiting list for this type of housing has 2,600 names on it, but there are currently only 915 spaces. The pilot project is a great thing, she said, but it just scratches the surface of the need. Read the rest of this entry »

H1N1 forces record number of surgery cancellations at Ottawa Hospital

November 24, 2009

By Mark Brownlee

Photo Credit: Kim Mackrael

The Ottawa Hospital has been forced to postpone more elective surgeries already this November than any other one-month period on record. The increase in H1N1-related hospital admissions has contributed to the postponement of 143 elective surgeries this month.

According to Ottawa Public Health, 164 residents of the Ottawa area were admitted to hospital since September with H1N1. As of Monday, the Ottawa Hospital had 11 confirmed cases of H1N1.

Allison Neill, director of public affairs at the Ottawa Hospital, said the surgeries were cancelled because of a shortage in the number of beds available at the hospital. H1N1 admissions added to the strain the hospital was already experiencing because of a lack of long-term care facility space.

“That patient who comes to emergency and needs to be admitted to hospital has to take priority for obvious reasons,” said Neill. Read the rest of this entry »

Local environmental group rides high on support from donors

November 24, 2009

By Chris Ferguson

An exquisitely organic and second-hand table setting at Otesha's Sunday night dinner. Photo: Adam Hooper

The tables were set for Sunday afternoon tea at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall on Laurier Avenue East; each one decorated with fancy, mismatched china, hand-sewn cloth napkins made from discarded material and baskets full of organic vegan cranberry scones.

Several hundred people turned out for Organic Affair, an event put on by a local youth-run charity organization called the Otesha project Sunday night.

The organization arranges for volunteers to bike around Canada and put on theatre performances along the way, mostly for local students.

Otesha’s messages – eat locally, grow your own garden, bike to school, reduce, reuse and recycle – may not seem new, but development director Jennifer Valberg said Otesha’s presentations are a reminder of the small things people can do to make a difference. Read the rest of this entry »

At the other end of the needle

November 24, 2009

By Adam Hooper

The jab takes three seconds, after three minutes of chatting. Photo: Adam Hooper

Vaccinations can be a pain at the best of times, but the process has been even more of a hassle over the past month for Ottawa residents getting the H1N1 shot.

That’s why nurse Juliana Pari makes an extra effort to greet visitors to the Vanier vaccination clinic with a warm smile.
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