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New jobs program will leave Downtown Eastside facility with no funding

Premier Christy Clark speaks in Kamloops, B.C. on Sept. 20.

Jeff Bassett for the Globe and Mail/jeff bassett The Globe and Mail

A B.C. government initiative to centralize employment-related services will eliminate funding for a facility in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside that helps around 3,000 people every year prepare to look for work.

The government announced Monday that contracts had been signed with 43 private companies, non-profit organizations and community associations to deliver government employment programs in 73 areas of the province.

The new centres, which will open April 2 under the name WorkBC, will replace a far-flung network of offices that are currently used by people searching for a job.

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Ross Gentleman, executive director of Tradeworks Training Society, a non-profit organization that works in the Downtown Eastside, said the new model for delivery of employment services will leave Pathways Information Centre with no funding and many people that it currently helps without services.

Pathways Information Centre, a program of Tradeworks, sees around 3,000 people each year who say they want to work, although most are not in a position to begin looking for a job, he said. Many live in a shelter, a hotel room or are homeless. Many have physical or mental-health issues, he said.

Pathways provides a range of services, such as connecting them with housing and health care, in order to help them prepare for their job search. Around 100 of their clients each year move directly to work, he said.

However, the new model is based on serving only 500 people with specialized needs in the Downtown Eastside and adjacent neighbourhoods, Mr. Gentleman said, adding that he did not know where those who are not served will go.

"We're still three months away from closing the doors," he added. The agency is still looking for an alternate source of funding, Mr. Gentleman said.

B.C. Social Development Minister Stephanie Cadieux was unavailable Monday for comment. A ministry spokesman dismissed concerns about Pathways closing down. Pathways was a referral service, not really an employment service, he said.

NDP critic Jenny Kwan said the revamped program short-changes specialized populations such as some groups in the Downtown Eastside. "The single-door entry could result in access to services being severely compromised," she said.

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The menu of employment-related services offered by the government includes sharing labour market information, assisting in developing job-search skills, employment counselling, job-placement services and development of a return-to-work plan.

A senior official in the B.C. Ministry of Social Development who was not authorized to be quoted in the media told reporters Monday during a technical briefing that every contractor was required to provide services to whoever walks in the door.

Services for specialized groups such as francophones, immigrants and the handicapped were to be available at every office. In some areas, satellite offices would augment the central hub.

The reorganization into a "one-stop shop" is intended to help the unemployed in a more efficient fashion but will not result in any financial savings for the government, the official said. Savings from reduction in office space and other infrastructure costs will allow for more spending on programs for the unemployed, the official said.

Around 300,000 people used the government's employment-related services in 2009-10, according to the most recent figures that are available. The federal government provides 84 per cent of the annual budget of $334-million while the province provides the remainder of the money.

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