The Manitoba government has announced $4.9 million in new funding for mental health and addictions-related initiatives to help sexually exploited youths.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Tuesday the money will be doled out over three years to groups that can help strengthen StreetReach’s mandate.
StreetReach is a provincially operated program that targets sexual exploitation, helps find missing youth, and investigate predators. It often works in partnership with other grassroots and community groups.
The province plans to give $3.8 million more over three years to Neecheewam Inc., a West End facility focused on Indigenous-led healing and care.
Stefanson said the funding will allow Neecheewam to double the number of beds in its Strong Hearted Buffalo Women Crisis Stabilization Unit (to eight), which will help more young women at risk of sexual exploitation who may also be grappling with mental health and addictions issues.
"Flexible admission processes will accommodate youth who may need to build relationships and trust before they are able to commit to longer-term treatment," the minister said. "(The unit) will focus on individualized plans that meet the unique needs of each young person so that we can get them on the right path in their lives."
Cory Campbell, executive director of Neecheewam, was frank about the province’s sexual-exploitation problems. He described Winnipeg as an "absolutely scary, scary city," especially for girls at risk of sexual exploitation. About "99.9 per cent" of Neecheewam’s clients have grappled with addiction issues, he said.
"The gaps that exist for these young people are significant, unfortunately," Campbell said. "This particular group of young people have been treated like pariahs in so many different systems — education, health, justice.
"Not only are they marginalized by the circumstances that brought them to where they are, when they go to access help they’re marginalized further at times. We hope to... get them to a place in which they feel confident in themselves and better in terms of their life experience being what it is, and being able to move forward in a good way."
Campbell welcomed new provincial funding, but noted Neecheewam has historically been underfunded by governments. He’s hoping the latest round of investment opens discussions about more equitable funding down the line, not just from the Families Department.
"We work with the same issues, with the same group of young people that (Manitoba) Justice works with, that Education works with, that Health works with in various aspects. And we have a really amazing team of staff. The aunties and uncles at Neecheewam are really, really important to the work we do," he said.
Families will also give the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre $751,000 over three years to integrate more of its mental health counsellors and addictions specialists with the StreetReach team.
Stefanson said another $370,000 will be used to hire more elders and provide better spiritual care for youths through StreetReach.
A provincial spokesperson said later a community forum will be hosted in the near future, inviting Indigenous organizations to submit proposals on ways to enhance resources. The winning submissions will be allocated portions of the $370,000.
"Our government is committed to providing (youths) with the supports they need so they do not fall victim to sexual exploitation and violence in our communities," she said.
The string of new provincial funding items comes as part of more than a dozen planned mental health and addictions announcements scheduled before the end of the year.
The government has already announced some additional investments for the NorWest Youth Hub and Klinic Community Health Centre. Tuesday’s news was the seventh such event.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at 7:04 PM CST: Updates story.