Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shelter review overdue

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The provincial government has decided to conduct a wide review into the funding and operation of Manitoba's 10 women's shelters, including two in Winnipeg. The review was sparked by the recent financial struggles of Osborne House, the oldest and largest women's shelter in the province.

Such a review is long overdue, considering the value of the work being done in women's shelters and the haphazard way in which they are funded.

In the case of Osborne House, it receives about $1.4 million in grants from the province annually, while another $500,000 was sought in grants from other organizations and through fundraising.

The facility, however, says their fundraising efforts have yielded smaller and smaller returns over the years because of what it calls donor fatigue across the board. The organization raised $286,000 in 2008, $296,000 in 2009 and $218,000 in 2010. But this year it has barely raised $100,000, which has put its programs in peril and forced it to lay off some workers.

In an effort to make up the difference, Osborne House appealed to the city for a $450,000 grant on the grounds that city police officers frequently drop off abused women at the shelter's doors.

This was a bizarre and inappropriate argument because women's shelters are no more a civic responsibility than hospitals or services for people with addictions.

Osborne House's officials even organized a demonstration outside city hall when their request was rejected, but they finally made the right call when they decided to visit Broadway.

Osborne House's 45-bed facility is already provided free of charge by the province, which is also the level of government responsible for critical social services.

The shelter is hoping the review will result in more cash, but the province first has to establish that all 10 shelters are properly managed and that their fundraising efforts are robust. The level of need must also be clarified.

Osborne House says it deals with about 10,000 women a year, but it is also encountering a relatively new demand for service from young girls from refugee or immigrant families who are in conflict with their parents over cultural issues.

The provincial review will need to consider how to meet this problem, or if it should be handled by a different agency. The province is promising a relatively quick review, which is appropriate to ensure services that protect women are not interrupted.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2012 A10

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