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WCSS sees surge in demand, 10% increase in revenue

Social-service provider adapting to rapidly changing community

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Perhaps more than any other local organization, the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) closely mirrors the rapidly changing nature of Whistler.

As the resort's population has surged, so too has the demand for social services. And as the community continues to deal with mounting challenges around housing and affordability, WCSS has kept stride thanks to a double-digit increase in revenue and an expansion in services.

"We've gone up 21 per cent in our population (since 2011), and I would hazard a guess that quite a few of those people who have migrated to Whistler are our kind of client," said WCSS executive director Cheryl Skribe.

In her Year in Review report, presented on June 28, Skribe said the organization's total revenues have increased 10 per cent over the last year to $1,498,767. That number was bolstered by an 11-per-cent rise in revenue at the Re-Use-It Centre, and a whopping 40-per-cent jump in revenue through the WCSS recycling program. Revenue was down three per cent at the Re-Build-It Centre, despite an increase in rent by over 30 per cent.

After covering the costs of running its various enterprises, Skribe said roughly 60 per cent of WCSS' annual revenue is poured back into the 21 social programs it delivers locally.

That's good news for a community where "the percentage of people not making it is growing," Skribe said. "And when I say not making it, I mean struggling to make ends meet, whether it's housing, whether it's the amount of money left over to buy groceries, whether it's young families saddled with daycare."

That struggle was reflected in an upswing of usage at the local food bank of 13 per cent. Skribe noted that families and long-term locals were the two fastest growing demographics of food-bank users over the past year. Injury and affordability concerns were the most cited reasons for visiting the food bank.

Because the food bank can provide "only a temporary solution to long-term food security," those who visit the Spring Creek facility more than twice are commonly referred to WCSS' outreach workers for additional support.

That program has also seen a surge in demand, with a record 2,124 one-on-one meetings with the outreach team in the last year. Mental health, financial, and emotional support were the primary reasons for the visits, and difficulties around housing and cost-of-living remained "permanent themes" for many clients, according to the report.

While acknowledging the challenges facing Whistlerites, WCSS outreach program manager Jackie Dickinson believes the growing appetite for social services is actually a positive.

"It's a strength of any community when people feel comfortable asking for help," she said. "I think the tremendous work our outreach team has done over the last 10 to 15 years has built a solid foundation. There's a lot less stigma walking into our offices then maybe there would be in other places."

The WCSS is gearing up to move to its new Nesters location, slated to open in March 2018. Its proximity to the village is "a game changer," said Skribe.

"As lovely as (the Spring Creek) location is, especially on the front of confidentiality, we're a little bit removed from Main Street. When someone has no money or is dealing with issues around confinement or stress around other people, getting on a bus is a big barrier," she said. "Moving us centrally is going to allow for a whole demographic of people that we're not reaching easily right now to have access to our services."

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