Catholic Family Services Hamilton to cease operations

  • February 23, 2023

After 74 years of service, Catholic Family Services (CFS) of Hamilton will close its doors on April 30. 

The decision comes as the agency has faced a number of challenges, many exacerbated by the pandemic. In a statement to The Catholic Register, executive director Fivel Flavour explained the reasons behind the decision. 

“The challenges CFS faces include high debt levels, an absence of savings and an inability to make needed investments in our organization,” wrote Flavour. “The pandemic has been very difficult for many non-for-profits, including CFS, which entered the pandemic with a weak balance sheet. We are currently operating at less than 60 per cent of staffing capacity. This is not sustainable. We have struggled to find people in an extraordinarily challenging labour environment. For all these reasons, the board made the difficult decision to wind down operations so programs could transfer to other agencies in Hamilton.”

CFS operated children’s programs, helped individuals with developmental disabilities, provided care for seniors, nurtured young parents, offered family counseling, taught financial wellness seminars and guided violence prevention courses.

Msgr. Murray Kroetsch, chancellor and vicar general of the Diocese of Hamilton  expressed sorrow at the news. 

“The Diocese of Hamilton just recently learned with sadness of the decision of the Board of Directors of the Catholic Family Services to close their doors after so many years providing social services to families in the City of Hamilton and beyond,” Kroetsch said. “For decades, since its inception, the Diocese of Hamilton has supported the good works of the CFS, with on-going funds for programming, sponsorship of special events, including extensive interest-free loans.” 

Over the next two months, the CFS Hamilton team will collaborate with its provincial funders to ensure the social service network remains strong in the city after the organization turns off the lights. Upon the funders identifying and signing agreements with new service providers, CFS Hamilton will assist in the transferring of services and clients. 

Kroetsch said “we are heartened to know that many of their community partners are exploring ways to ensure that the good work of the Catholic Family Services will continue and that their clients will receive the assistance they need.”

He added that the diocese “will continue to support other charitable partners who will continue to provide the social services which provided by the CFS in the past.”

Not all are happy with the events surrounding CFS, however. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5470, comprised of 50 CFS employees, offered an alternative take about what is fueling this closure. 

In an interview with CBC Hamilton, Aubrey Gonsalves, the chair of CUPE’s Ontario’s Social Services Workers’ Coordinating Committee, claimed that the efforts by the workers to ratify its first collective bargaining agreement “probably forced” the closure.

“No union bargains with the employer to shut them down ... nobody wanted this agency to close,” Gonsalves told the CBC.

Gonsalves also said CFS was “stonewalling” in mid-2021 before sharing its financial statements. Reportedly, the statements showed financial mismanagement, he said. 

In response to these claims, Flavour wrote, “I understand how the news of the closure is upsetting to employees and our partners, but the closure is for the reasons I have provided.”

Serving as executive director of CFS since 2018, and beforehand as a team leader, Flavour has great appreciation for the scale of CFS’ accomplishments over the years.

“Guided by our Catholic values, CFS has been an agency that has provided help to some of the most vulnerable people in Hamilton and has done so with great care, compassion and professional excellence,” he said. “CFS has a history of developing new programs, forging novel partnerships and responding to underserved needs. The legacy of CFS will be the programs like these that CFS has built and shaped for the benefit of our neighbours, programs that will continue to serve the community long into the future.”

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