Organizers at PTS, Ottawa’s queer community centre, are hoping to address the issue of LGBT youth homelessness in the city while also creating a sustainable funding model to offset costs. The organization is participating in the Aviva Community Fund competition — an initiative run by Aviva Insurance that gives organizations in Canada the chance to propose initiatives that will positively affect their communities.
Participating organizations move through three rounds of online voting in which they can promote their ideas through social media. Participants who gather enough votes move through the competition’s various levels. Individual voters are given 15 votes to use in each of the competition’s three levels and can vote once per day for any of the initiatives. Ultimately, 40 finalists from around the country will be judged (each finalist receives a minimum of $5,000), and those ranked highest by the judges will receive funds until the $1,000,000 limit of available funds has been reached.
Kayla Miller, PTS’s volunteer and programs coordinator, says the idea is to create an employment program for Ottawa’s homeless queer youth. The plan is for youth to gain usable skills and employment experience by preparing and delivering meals for the city’s population of LGBT seniors. If funded, Miller says the program would aim to partner with a local restaurant or potentially the culinary program at Algonquin College to provide a space where youth could prepare the meals.
“Hopefully, [this will be] a partnered initiative, because we, as you can see, don’t have an industrial kitchen to actually prepare food,” Miller says. She says PTS is waiting to see how they do with the funding initiative before pursuing those partnerships. PTS is competing for funding at the $50,000 to $100,000 level.
By bringing together street-involved LGBT youth and LGBT seniors who don’t have regular access to affordable, healthful food, Miller explains, the initiative would target two vulnerable populations to the benefit of both. “Everybody needs to eat, and not everybody has the opportunity or the finances to get good, healthy, nutritious food on a regular basis,” she says. “Transportation is also a barrier for people as well, especially for seniors.” Participating youth would deliver the meals to those who are less mobile, and LGBT seniors would also have the option of picking up meals from PTS.
The plan is to make the service available for a sliding scale cost in the hopes that it will become a profitable and self-sustaining venture that will provide some operational income for PTS. The program would employ 10 youth for 12 to 24 months at a time, teaching them transferrable skills useful in both their daily lives and in the search for stable employment. It would also aim to provide food security for up to 200 community members each month.
If PTS secures funding through the Aviva competition, it will be used to support the program for its first six months, covering the cost of kitchen rental space, payroll expenses for youth and trained kitchen supervisors, and meal delivery.
Funding has been an ongoing issue for PTS, along with many other LGBT organizations, and Miller says this creates an environment where organizations feel they must compete against each other. For this reason, she says, Aviva’s competition-based model isn’t a perfect one. “I have conflicting feelings about that, but I get why they do it,” she says.
Lack of funding partly explains why organizations like PTS use social-enterprise models and sliding-scale fees to generate operational costs. “The buy-in cost to participate in society, because everything is a profit-based model, is so much higher than what it could be,” says PTS board president Morgan Veres.
If the Aviva funding comes through and the initiative is successful, Miller says PTS intends to make it a permanent program. If not, she says, they will apply for other grants to try to get the program off the ground. The third round of voting begins Nov 10.