Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS) executive director Jackie Dickinson opened her report on the state of the resort’s primary social service provider by talking about adversity—and how WCSS is not immune to the challenges seen in the broader Whistler community.
“What I've learned over the last year is that there continues to be challenges as an organization,” Dickinson said at the June 14 annual general meeting, held at the Maury Young Arts Centre.
“What I've also realized is what happens within the walls of Whistler Community Services, and the challenges we face as an employer, as an organization, it mirrors what's happening in the community. We are not immune to adversity.”
Over the past year, WCSS saw yet another surge in the number of people requiring services, as inflation and rising housing costs resulted in a climbing demand for the food bank, emergency shelter space and outreach services.
The food bank saw 13,633 visits in 2022, a 36-per-cent increase over the last four years, with youth under 19 accounting for 1,345 of that, according to Dickinson. Pre-pandemic, that number commonly hovered around 2,500 visits a year.
The trend hasn’t slowed down in 2023 either, as June 5 was the busiest day in WCSS food bank history. Over the course of three hours in the afternoon, the organization served food 141 times to 84 households.
Dickinson said that people aged zero to 13 and seniors 70 and up are the fastest-growing demographic of food bank visitors in Whistler. More than 60 per cent of the people requiring the service are fully employed, and more than half are spending more than 50 per cent of their gross income on housing.
The employee shortage problem facing many resort businesses did not spare WCSS in the 2022-23 financial year, as the non-profit lost about half its staff due to various factors, with about 80 per cent of these employees choosing to leave Whistler altogether.
“To lose upwards of 20 people, literally since our last AGM last year, so in a 12-month period, that's costly for an organization," Dickinson said.
"And not just costly from a financial standpoint, but just how that impacts teams, how that impacts people, how it impacts the culture, the people who work here and how we feel about where we live."
Dickinson shed light on this impact at the AGM to show that, while WCSS aims to help people outside of its walls, it is not immune to the challenges the resort's affordable housing crisis and transient culture brings. She went on to say that Whistler needs to do more to make people feel like the ski town is a home, not just a house.
“We have people living in the community, but it isn't their home,” Dickinson said.
“If we want to be a healthy community, if we want to thrive, if we want to support smart tourism, if we want to be a resort community that takes care of people from a whole bunch of other places, we have to take care of the people that are trying to make this a home.”
While there were challenges to fill the shoes of those who left, the non-profit experienced some positive achievements in the last year, particularly in the social enterprise division of the organization.
The Re-Use-It and Re-Build-It centres saw visitation rise considerably over the last year. The social enterprises division accounted for 62 per cent of all monetary donations to the organization and, in the process, diverted 478,838 kilograms of waste from entering the waste stream.
According to figures published in the annual report and statement of financial position, the increased revenue from this division helped the organization stay revenue-positive throughout the financial year.
“Numbers obviously cannot capture the breadth and depth of impact of this organization, but it's also true that no organization, social services or otherwise, can survive without a steady, ongoing flow of funds,” WCSS treasurer Carlee Price said in a presentation at the AGM.
The thrift store brought in $2,069,902, up considerably from $1,376,420 in the 2020-21 pandemic year. Donations and grant revenue sank slightly, to $1,232,431, due mainly to the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy program concluding. Including membership fees, interest, and other income, WCSS brought in $3,368,370 in revenue.
Program and thrift store expenses rose to $2,976,219 from $2,726,224 in 2021-22, and general and administrative expenses increased to $136,101 from $118,755. Wages continued to make up a significant portion of overall costs, but only three employees made more than $75,000, with a combined remuneration of $295,360, up from $264,089 in the previous year.
Another success was the start of Whistler’s first-ever Night Walk for Hope fundraiser at the beginning of 2023, which aimed to raise awareness and capital to support mental health. The event brought out dozens of people and raised $22,000.
WCSS signed a new lease agreement with the Resort Municipality of Whistler in 2022 to permanently move the Cold Weather Emergency program to the headquarters of the non-profit at 8000 Nesters Rd. The shelter was activated for 11 nights in winter as temperatures dropped below -10 C, with 44 overnight stays.
The WCSS outreach team also made progress on harm-reduction efforts with local businesses, helping spread awareness on how to use naloxone, which continues to grow in importance as the province continues to struggle with the opioid epidemic that has taken the lives of thousands of people in the last few years.
The AGM wrapped up with the re-election of Alistair Cray, Victoria Swayze, Lisa Kenkel, Emily Dicken, Samuel Robertson and Deborah Pulleyblank to the non-profit's board. Cake and refreshments followed the election in memory of longtime WCSS staff member Suleeporn “Sulee” Sailer, who passed away last year.
Dickinson is thankful to the community for their ongoing support of WCSS, and is optimistic about the future, but believes there are more challenges ahead for the organization and Whistler.
“I do think we're headed for more [discomfort] and more challenges, but I also know that the people who work here signed up for that. We're not scared of it,” Dickinson said.
For more details or to read WCSS’ Annual Report, Impact Report or financial statements, visit mywcss.org.