Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Resolve shelter impasse

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Winnipeg cannot afford to lose the critical services of the province's largest battered women's shelter, Osborne House, which has 45 beds for women and their children on the run from domestic violence. Some 992 women and children made use of the shelter's residential and non-residential services last year, making up more than 8,000 "bed nights." They need somewhere to run in the hour of their need.

The provincial government says the shelter's finances are in order, but some women are not getting adequate counselling and staff are under real stress because of hostilities in the working environment. The overriding problem in the way of resolving the issues is the palpable distrust of government from the manager of Osborne House, and the shelter itself seems entrenched in a siege mentality. Executive director Barbara Judt says the province is out to get her organization in retaliation for her very public revelations about deputy premier Eric Robinson's comments about the ignorance of "do-good white people" running the shelter.

Family Services Minister Jennifer Howard has signalled she wants to focus now on what needs fixing -- her comment that the problems can be solved should give Osborne House managers and board members relief and a way to work with its primary funder.

An external review of conducted by Hill Advisory -- hired by Osborne House earlier this year -- indicated there is considerable hostility with staff divided into camps.

The work environment is not conducive to efficient, effective delivery of services. A separate evaluation of services found women were getting a fraction of the counselling they need to be protected from their abusers, to return to the community and to get on with their lives. This, however, is not unique to Osborne House clients: A tally for 2012 appears to show all but two of Manitoba shelters deliver less counselling than Osborne House.

Hill Advisory, however, was rebuffed in its efforts to do a followup, commissioned by Ms. Howard's department last month, on its recommendations to Osborne House on repairing the work environment -- Ms. Judt, the report noted, refused to co-operate further, calling the consultant biased.

This is a matter for the shelter's board. It cannot ignore the substantial concerns in the Hill Advisory report and it has a duty to ensure employees are trained and able to do their jobs. It must give government an idea as to how it can respond to both evaluations and when the process will be complete.

Osborne House has money problems, largely because fundraising has fallen off, another issue on the board's plate. But having found no serious concerns with the management of finances, or the $1.6 million in provincial grants, Ms. Howard must ask if current funding is adequate for the job it expects Osborne House to do. The shelter cannot, by agreement, turn women away. The minister, ultimately, must ensure Winnipeg has appropriate services to meet the demand from abused women, and that means shelter staff must be willing and capable to care for them.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 30, 2013 A10

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