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Former youth worker with Harmony House Residential Services feels let down by Community Services

TRURO - A former employee of Harmony House Residential Services says she is completely baffled over the provincial government's lack of interest in trying to deal with what she calls "fraudulent" and "misuse" of taxpayer funding.

A former worker at Harmony House Residential Services, who does not want to be identified for fear of harming her future employment prospects, questions the Department of Community Services handling of the way public funds were used after the facility closed last June.

"Yes, it is fraudulent. Completely fraudulent," the individual said, regarding money paid by Community Services to Harmony House owner Rorie Digout that was intended to go to the operation's six employees.

The woman, who is referred to in this article as Nan, (because she does not want her identity used out of fear it will affect her chances at finding future employment) said she and the other five former workers feel let down by Community Services, which has refused to become involved after it terminated funding to Harmony House in June. Nan said she has spoken with the other five workers and her message is a general consensus of how they all feel.

"They haven't really wanted to bother with it and I think they were just trying to kick us to the curb, push us out," she said of the department's lack of involvement.

CUPE representative Grant Dart, who has been handling the case on behalf of the six members, estimates that at least $15,000 - money that came from Community Services - is owed to the former employees in severance pay, vacation pay, retroactive pay and RRSP benefits that have disappeared from the picture along with Digout.

Nan said she estimates she is owed between $3,500 and $5,000, although definite figures are hard to determine because of what she described as Digout's shoddy bookkeeping practices that had persisted for years.

"Financially, not great over the years," said Nan, regarding bounced cheques, problems with unpaid medical benefits, union dues and so forth.

Nan said she had worked for Harmony House for more than 10 years, primarily at a North River residence and for the past five or six weeks at a second location in Hilden after the North River site was closed.

"We pleaded to social services many times through Rorie and through little meetings we had had with lawyers and stuff that we needed something different because we just weren't surviving four and five weeks at a time between paycheques," she said. "They assured us that if Rorie got her books in order that they didn't see why they couldn't do that."

But that never happened, she said. Since losing her job last June, it has been a struggle just to make ends meet, given the fact her husband is on a disability pension and she has two teenagers living at home.

"A lot of times I'd go to use medical and Rorie would have bounced a cheque or would say this or that and we wouldn't have medical," she said.

"I know very little of our money went to the right place.

As things now stand, Nan said she has a hard time paying her light and phone bills, her children can't partake in activities they used to and even putting food on the table is a struggle.

"It is hard to eat every month," she said. "That money is my lifeline right now to get me back on my feet and it doesn't look good."

Twitter: @tdnharry


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