Phoenix Centre project enhanced by funds from United Way East Ontario

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday July 29, 2021


As mental health concerns and financial inequality become more amplified by the ongoing pandemic, the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families, host of the Champlain Region Virtual Care Project, has come up with a solution to ensure no-one falls through the cracks.

Providing services virtually was a given, but providing adequate care became much more complicated as it quickly became apparent that not everyone can afford the internet or the necessary devices to connect with mental health providers.

Access was improved by subsidizing telecom bills and providing the devices, but with hundreds of people in need of services, it became expensive for the non-profit and its partner agencies.

In response to the need, United Way East Ontario contributed $85,000 last year and designated $65,000 for 2021. The County of Renfrew also donated $20,000 for this project, so total funding was equalized.
With this support, the centre was able to fund about 600 people in the Champlain Region, ensuring that no one went without mental health care due to distance or pandemic restrictions.

The project is ongoing.

As they were already providing partial virtual care, the centre was chosen as the lead for over 50 other organizations in  Ottawa, Prescott-Russell, Lanark County and Renfrew County.

“We decided that instead of each of us struggling and find ways of solving this, let’s work together,” said Greg Lubimiv, Executive Director of the Phoenix Centre. “We became the one door approach so that if an organization had somebody struggling with access, they would just call our coordinator.”

Due to the number of agencies working together, the centre was able to strike deals with the top three telecom companies in Canada.

“More than 600 people have already reached out for help through this service, and United Way’s investment empowers us to continue reaching those who need us, without barriers,” said Lubimiv.

He estimates that between 800 and 1,000 individuals will access this project in the upcoming year.

When residents were told to avoid leaving their homes except for essential reasons, the centre - and other agencies - made their services entirely virtual. Though many people benefited from this model, many others encountered new barriers.

They either lived in an area too rural for good connectivity or couldn’t afford the necessary equipment to chat online or over the phone.

“Our journey through COVID-19 has made the inequities that many children, youth, adults and families face every day even more clear,” said Lubimiv.

As time went on, the centre connected with some of these clients in the office. However, it quickly became clear that there were two types of people: those who could use the virtual model with ease and those who could not as the pandemic highlighted community and mental health issues that were once hidden away, said the Executive Director.

“It was like putting a magnifying glass on mental health,” said Lubimiv. “We have huge numbers of anxiety and depression. We have huge numbers of eating disorders and suicidal ideation.”

Not just children and teens have suffered through the nearly two years isolated from their peers and extended families. Adults are facing just as many issues.

All can receive help from the centre, and as restrictions ease, people can also choose to visit the organization in person.

Most mental health agencies worldwide are moving forward with a blended model, and the centre is no exception. Bridging those gaps between the “haves and have-nots” is integral to ensuring that everyone can connect, whether in-person, over the phone, over video conference and, one day, over text chat.

Without the United Way funding, they wouldn’t have been able to extend their reach as they have.

“There would have been hundreds of clients who wouldn’t have been able to access services at a critical time in their life and agencies would have spent tremendous more energy solving this,” said Lubmivic. “Perhaps putting clients at risk.”

The Phoenix Centre isn’t the only organization that received funds from the United Way East Ontario; $2 million was invested in 39 programs across Ottawa, Prescott-Russell, Lanark County, and Renfrew County to respond to the ongoing need in local communities.

The money will be used to provide basic needs like food and PPE, support isolated seniors and their caregivers, strengthen mental health supports, address learning loss among vulnerable children and youth, empower community services to continue their frontline work and build a more equitable recovery from the pandemic.  

Throughout the pandemic, United Way East Ontario has chaired the COVID-19 Community Response Table, a group of more than 100 partner organizations and subject matter experts who deployed more than 60 rapid response solutions to respond to the challenges of the pandemic in its first year.  

With support from the Community Response Table, United Way has helped more than 130,000 people stay alive, healthy, and safe with data-driven investments and collaborative advocacy since March 2020.

“It will take courage, commitment, and innovation to continue tackling systemic challenges while many people return to a pre-pandemic feeling of normalcy,” said Michael Allen, President and CEO of United Way East Ontario. “We will continue tackling the most complex challenges our communities face, and we will take the lessons of the pandemic with us to build a more equitable future - that is the power of United Way.”