Federal funds spare aboriginal groups

Source: The Globe and Mail
Byline: Mark Hume

The federal government has closed a funding gap that threatened to shut down non-profit aboriginal groups providing 15,000 shelter beds and feeding 2,000 families annually in British Columbia.

“The government has agreed to a six-month extension of existing projects, which was very nice,” Patrick Stewart, chairman of the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee, said yesterday.

“And what that means is it will give us six months of continued existing services while we work out the new terms and conditions and do proposal calls [for a new two-year contract].

“So it looks like we’ll get the seamless transition we were looking for.”

Mr. Stewart said officials with Human Resources Development Canada contacted him last Friday, the day after more than 20 non-profit aboriginal groups held a rally in Vancouver to protest against a funding shortfall that threatened to put them out of business within weeks.

The groups run food banks, shelters, drop-in centres, soup kitchens and other services for needy aboriginals in Greater Vancouver.

The federal government announced two months ago that $526-million in funding had been approved to extend homelessness programs nationally.

However, the money had not made it through the system to the non-profit agencies in British Columbia.
Mr. Stewart said that the protest, an intervention by Mayor Sam Sullivan and news coverage prompted the government to fast- track the funding issue and avoid the program closings.

Last week, the groups began to circulate letters advising staff that they were going to be laid off, and telling clients that the offices would be closed within a few weeks.

But now, “there will be no layoffs, no doors closed and we’re just getting the word out today to the service providers,” Mr. Stewart said. “Everybody is very jubilant about that. We did get what we were after for the short term, so that’s very good news.”

After last week’s demonstration, Mr. Stewart and other officials with the Aboriginal Homelessness Steering Committee went to visit Mr. Sullivan at city hall.

“As soon as we left, he phoned the minister’s office [Monte Solberg, Minister of Human Resources and Social Development] and that helped, also all the media attention was awesome. It got things moving.”

Helen Davies, acting director of community initiatives and policy directorate for Service Canada, said last week that her ministry was “working diligently to ensure that service to clients is not disrupted.”

Mr. Stewart said Ms. Davies followed through on that promise with calls to him that resulted in an agreement to extend existing projects, while working on longer-term solutions.

“There will be no gaps. . . . There are details that we have to work out, but it certainly looks promising,” he said.