Over the last ten years, Matthew House Ottawa has furnished the homes of around five thousand families and served more than fifteen thousand marginalized people in the Ottawa area.17 Matthew House Ottawa is now offering support to another organization in Ottawa, Stepstone House, as they start a similar transitional-housing and settlement-assistance program for refugee claimants.
Support and Budget
As a registered charity, Matthew House Ottawa’s work has been made possible through the dedication and generosity of individuals, faith communities, and organizations that support its mission. The organization operates on a relatively small budget, but it has grown rapidly over the past three years. Its total revenue in 2017 was $268,510; this increased by almost two-thirds to $438,951 in 2019. Much of this new financial capacity has been made possible through donations, which have increased threefold from 2017 ($49,192) to 2019 ($148,247)—from 18 percent to 34 percent of total income. In addition to donations, the other major source of revenue is furniture-delivery and pickup fees, which brought in $185,639 in 2019. Together, these two revenue streams generated 76 percent of the organization’s annual income last year. The remaining quarter of revenue came from a variety of sources. Residents contributed $43,654 toward their rental costs, a portion of which is covered by Ontario Works payments, and the City of Ottawa covers some of the furniture-delivery fees. The rest of its budget is covered through furniture sales (in cases when donated items are too large to be easily moved into client apartments), grants, consulting income, and other miscellaneous sources.181920
Matthew House Ottawa’s financial growth has made it possible for the organization to invest in expansions to its programs. Total expenses have risen from $194,218 in 2017 to $362,176 in 2019. A significant portion of the new budget space has been put towards greater staff capacity: spending on salaries and benefits more than doubled, from $121,501 to $249,732.212223
The organization also relies heavily on volunteers, who offered more than ten thousand hours of service in 2019.24 Many volunteers are former refugees who received services from Matthew House Ottawa and are looking to give back. The organization believes that this empowerment is one of its most important impacts: “that the people we serve are themselves answering a call to serve others, to help those in need, to build community, to offer hope—a virtuous cycle that will continue to transform our community and country for the better.”25 The staff leaders of both the Furniture Bank and Refugee Services programs were first involved with Matthew House Ottawa as volunteers.
In the Refugee Services program, volunteers interact regularly with Matthew House Ottawa residents, helping them with everyday tasks. Their consistent engagement enables them to mentor new volunteers. Other volunteers help residents find and move into longer-term housing when their time at Matthew House Ottawa comes to an end, plan community-building events for residents, cook evening meals at the house, act as translators for residents, or help out with odd jobs around the house as needed. Volunteers also welcome clients to the Furniture Bank and help them choose furniture that would work well in their home. Warehouse assistants carry clients’ new furniture to the truck and members of the truck crew unload it at their home.
Matthew House Ottawa continues to work to meet the needs of as many refugees and marginalized families as it can. These needs, however, often run up against financial constraints, as there are almost always more people who need help than the organization can reach with its limited budget. More partnerships with government offer one opportunity for Matthew House Ottawa to increase its capacity to help refugees and other vulnerable Ottawa residents. The organization has integrated both shelter and long-term supports into its Refugee Services program, but it has had to rely on private funding for most of its history. Matthew House Ottawa is only just beginning to partner financially with government to provide these services.
Individuals and organizations have stepped in to help Matthew House Ottawa serve as many people as possible on its limited budget. At the Furniture Bank, for example, a local storage company has helped meet the ongoing challenge of storing and transporting donated items since the earliest days of the program. Volunteers provide critical workers for both programs. Yet as has been the case for many charities, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into Matthew House Ottawa’s operations. Public-health restrictions have reduced the number of volunteers who are able to serve, requiring Matthew House Ottawa to adapt quickly in order to keep its programs functioning.
On the other hand, the pandemic has given many Canadians a new appreciation for refugees’ contributions to society. “Not everyone understands the plight of refugees and what they bring to the table,” explains Doreen Katto, who arrived in Canada as a refugee herself and now coordinates Matthew House Ottawa’s Refugee Services program. “Sometimes refugees are considered a burden to the economy. And I believe that during the COVID-19 era, some people have really learned that refugees are very useful in this country. They are the ones supporting the health-care system, for example. And this is beginning to come out.”26