A place to BELONG

Sunshine House struggles to fund its harm-reduction programs


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It's been the home of some incredible participant-driven programming that has made a real difference in the lives of some of our city's most marginalized people, but the long-range outlook for Sunshine House isn't so sunny.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/11/2015 (2578 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s been the home of some incredible participant-driven programming that has made a real difference in the lives of some of our city’s most marginalized people, but the long-range outlook for Sunshine House isn’t so sunny.

Don’t misunderstand. The drop-in centre, which is located at the corner of Logan Avenue and Sherbrook Street and largely serves street-involved and homeless folks, had lots to celebrate at its annual general meeting last week — such as the development of Like That, the new drop-in recreational program for people exploring gender or sexual identity. Or Street Feet, a foot health clinic supported by Mount Carmel Clinic. Or Lit Up, Sunshine House’s literacy program. Or the continued success of JD & The Sunshine Band, the result of the Solvent Users’ Recreation Project (SURP) pilot program. Those are just a few of the wins on a long list.

But come Saturday, Margaret Ormond, the special projects manager at Sunshine House, might be forced to make some tough staffing cuts. The financial picture for the centre is grim.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS JD Ormond is the drop-in program co-ordinator at Sunshine House. The centre at Logan Avenue and Sherbrook Street is in danger of having to cut staff if more funding isn't secured.

“We’ve been pushing hard to get things going here — and the successes of that have been obvious to some extent,” she said over coffee at Sunshine House. (Toes, Sunshine House’s resident cat — so named for an extra toe — was oblivious to our serious conversation.) “Where we haven’t been successful is securing the kind of core funds we need.”

Sunshine House’s operating budget for April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015, was $191,062. Incredibly, the drop-in centre’s team was able to patch together $171,159 of that through various grants, donations and fundraising efforts, but it’s a constant hustle.

“It’s too bloody hard to keep doing this without some kind of base,” Ormond said. “It half-kills people.”

And so, in April, Ormond, along with board members Derek Pachal, Courtney Bell and Chelsea Jalloh, as well as drop-in program co-ordinator JD Ormond and a Sunshine House client, met with Ministers Kerri Irvin-Ross (Family Services), Flor Marcelino (Multiculturalism and Literacy) and Deanne Crothers (Healthy Living and Seniors), as well as former minister Peter Bjornson, about core funding. It was an encouraging meeting.

“We left there feeling very assured that we were going to get core funding, and that it wasn’t going to be a one-off, that it would be sustaining,” Ormond said. “That’s not what we expected. We wanted to be heard and we wanted them to consider — but we left feeling like, ‘Oh, OK, this is going to happen.’ “

It didn’t quite happen the way they thought it might. Sunshine House received $35,000 from Irvin-Ross as well as a letter from Crothers’ office committing to $25,000 of ongoing grant funding for 2015-16, pending legislative approval.

“It’s not inconsiderable money, but it’s not what we thought,” Ormond said.

Ormond believes Sunshine House’s model might be a tough sell to the government. The centre operates on a harm-reduction ethos, meaning clients do not have to be clean or sober to access its services. In addition to providing community programming, Sunshine House also offers laundry and washroom facilities, a small clothing bank as well as harm-reduction supplies such as condoms, syringes and other injection-drug equipment. It’s also one of the only drop-in centres of its kind that welcomes solvent abusers.

Harm-reduction models focus on preventing or minimizing the harmful consequences of drug use — such as disease or infection from needle sharing/reusage, for example — and other risky behaviour. A ton of research exists supporting the efficacy of harm-reduction policies, but many people still believe such policies actually encourage drug use — even though there’s no evidence supporting that claim.

‘It’s too bloody hard to keep doing this without some kind of base. It half-kills people’

— Margaret Ormond, special projects manager at Sunshine House

But while things such as needle exchanges and condoms might be the most visible examples of harm reduction, it encompasses a lot more. Harm reduction also means reducing social harms such as isolation.

“The mandate here is to create a place where people can learn and grow,” Ormond said. “That’s it. It’s simple. It isn’t a fix — it isn’t. The principles on which Sunshine House operates on are very ordinary. It’s inclusion.”

There’s a wall in the main room of Sunshine House covered in squares of coloured paper. On them, clients have written down one thing they think is valuable or special about the centre.

“I like Sunshine House because everyone is welcome and everyone fits in (even if they don’t),” wrote one. “The ability to meet people where they are at,” wrote another. “Creating something out of nothing,” wrote a third.

Sunshine House offers people a place to belong, which is all any of us wants. That, to me, is well worth investing in.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and author of the newsletter, NEXT, a weekly look towards a post-pandemic future.


Updated on Monday, November 16, 2015 7:35 AM CST: Replaces photo

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