Donna Robicheau

Donna Robicheau

North Okanagan agencies lose web funding

The information highway may become a dead-end for some North Okanagan residents.

The information highway may become a dead-end for some North Okanagan residents.

Many groups aren’t sure if they will be able to continue public access to the Internet after the federal government eliminated funding to the Community Access Program.

“It will be quite a loss,” said Gay Jewitt, with the Whitevalley Community Resource Centre in Lumby.

There are about 15 locations in the North Okanagan that receive CAP funding.

“There are a lot of people who can’t afford a phone with Internet capability or a computer,” said Lisa Froom, with Vernon’s Upper Room Mission, adding many of her clients can’t afford food.

About 10 people a day use the computer station at the mission.

“They are using it for job searches or looking for housing,” said Froom.

“They may use the computer to connect with their family for the first time in years. Our goal is to move people forward.”

The mission has received $3,600 a year from CAP.

The Junction Literacy and Youth Centre assists disadvantaged teens and it has received $3,960 a year from CAP for four computers.

“If we don’t find a way to replace the funds, we would have to remove the computers and our youth would no longer have access to computers,” said Debbie Schiller, executive director.

“Through Facebook, our staff often support kids who are struggling with a variety of issues because that is there main form of communication. Some kids get help from our staff to develop and print resumes, do job searches and send e-mails to potential employers.”

Schiller insists Ottawa’s cuts are short-sighted.

“There are youth who don’t have home computers, especially if they are couch-surfing, living in poverty or not in school” she said.

Internet use at the Whitevalley Community Resource Centre is similar to that other sites.

“People are accessing government forms and applying for school,” said Jewitt.

Computer training has been provided to seniors who want contact family through social media.

“It helps reduce the isolation,” said Jewitt. “The need for providing sites hasn’t gone away — connecting people.”

Twenty-one Okanagan Regional Library branches have CAP computers, and the funding cut means an $80,000 hit for the agency.

But while she isn’t sure where the money may come from for 2013, executive director Lesley Dieno doesn’t expect public access will cease.

“Our mandate is to provide education and information and one of the main ways we do that is through computers.”

Colin Mayes, Okanagan-Shuswap MP, defends the government trying to bring spending under control.

“In 1995, when the program was started, access to computers wasn’t what it is today.”

Mayes says there are options for people to access computers including Service Canada offices.

“There are Internet cafes, it’s not that expensive (to get Internet capability). You have to set priorities with the limited dollars you have.”