Barbara McInerney, executive director of Kaushee’s Place Transition Home, speaks at a rally for non-for-profits outside the legislature in Whitehorse on March 7. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

$30K not enough to keep women’s shelter out of deficit: executive director

The funding increase from health and social services is to account for rising costs of living

The Yukon Women’s Transition Home Society, a not-for-profit overseeing organizations Kaushee’s Place and Betty’s Haven, is to receive a roughly $29,490 increase in the upcoming fiscal year — well below the level of funding it says it needs to stay afloat.

As reported by the News last week, the society requires $525,000 more in core funding, according to the executive director of the society, Barbara McInerney.

The current increase from the Yukon government — two per cent, to be applied to each organization’s funding allotment — has been held up by Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost as means to brace for rising costs of living.

The “majority” of NGOs across the territory are also getting a two-per-cent funding increase, Frost said in the House. However, that figure represents about 18 times less than what the society says it needs for its operations.

“My job is to look for efficiencies and that’s what I’m doing,” Frost told reporters March 12.

“We will continue to work with the transition society to ensure that they have the funding. … Our fundamental priorities (are) ensuring that women and children are given an opportunity for a safe place to go in the event they require.”

Asked on March 12 if her department has alerted the transition society of this modest funding bump, Frost said she “believes” the transition home society has been informed.

“I will verify that at my meeting tomorrow,” she added, which is when Frost is due to meet with McInerney.

When the News spoke to McInerney the morning of March 12, she said she “did not know” what two-per-cent increase in funding Frost was talking about or where it was coming from, but confirmed the society has a meeting March 13 to discuss the issue.

Frost also recently told the News that the society was able to roll funds from previous quarters into the current one — an important issue to consider, as McInerney has said that the months of January, February and March are the most expensive for the society, due to an uptick in need from the community during that time as well as the associated costs of winter, such as increased heat and hydro usage. However, McInerney said it’s not as simple as rolling those funds over; according to their funding agreement, the government has the right to “not give (us) the transfer payment” if the society is “showing a surplus.”

“If for some reason all male violence completely stopped (in the territory) … and we were carrying a surplus… that would be a reasonable thing to do,” McInerney said.

Even if that were to miraculously occur, the point is moot, she noted, because the society doesn’t “have any money to carry over into the next fiscal year.”

“We’re running a deficit.”

The society has only held on as long as it has because they have been chronically understaffed, she added, largely because the government has been courting the same type of employees it requires and can pay “$10 an hour more” than the not-for-profit can.

According to the 2019-20 territorial budget, taken together, Kaushee’s Place and Betty’s Haven are slated to receive roughly $1.5 million, an amount mirroring the current forecast. Between the pair, that means about $1,221,000 has been allotted for the former and roughly $253,000 for the latter.

When applying the two-per-cent increase to each organization, it evens out to be $24,428 for Kaushee’s Place and $5,060 for Betty’s Haven.

During question period on March 11, Frost said the increase the not-for-profit is getting is “in excess” of the upcoming budget.

“We are working closely with the transition society to ensure that we have a better understanding of the pressures and demands they face, as well as making sure that the services we provide across government are meeting the needs and not overlapping unnecessarily,” she said then.

A spokesperson with the department said the two-per-cent increase is not reflected in the budget.

“The 2019/20 … budget had to be submitted prior to the determination of the two (per cent) increases,” Clarissa Wall said. “Rather, in the budget, in the social services section, there is a sum of $250,000 to cover the two (per cent) increase for the many NGOs that are getting it.”

Kaushee’s Place is a 15-bed facility that provides emergency housing for women and children in the community fleeing domestic violence. The not-for-profit also operates Betty’s Haven, which has 10 transitional housing units, where women and children can stay for up to 18 months, paying 25 per cent of their income up to fair market value.

Frost told reporters her department doesn’t differentiate between the two places — that’s up to the overarching not-for-profit.

That the budget for the not-for-profit has remained the same is indicative of a “funding freeze,” said Yukon Party finance critic Brad Cathers, adding that McInerney and Frost are at loggerheads in that there have been two “entirely different” narratives.

Cathers said funding for the not-for-profit has been stuck at roughly $1.5 million since 2016-2017.

“The approach that should be taken by government in dealing with NGOs who provide valuable services to Yukoners is to, first of all, respect them as partners and, secondly, work with them collaboratively to respond to their needs …” he said.

If the Liberals, continue to “ignore” those needs, the impacts could be severe.

“If the Yukon Women’s Transition Home is forced to close their doors, it would deprive Yukoners of a very important service for women and children fleeing domestic abuse situations, as well as the second stage housing,” Cathers said. “What is quite disturbing is that the Liberal government does not seem to appreciate the importance of this issue.”

During question period on March 12, Frost said a proposed three-year agreement was on the table with the transition home, which would have started in 2017.

A day earlier, also during question period, Frost said it was around this time that Kaushee’s turned down the agreement in favour of an incremental one lasting three months at a time, adding that hammering out a long-term solution would carry on.

McInerney said the organization turned down the offer of a one-year contract from the government at the beginning of this fiscal year and instead were negotiating quarter-to-quarter because they weren’t confident they could make it to year end, she said.

She has “no idea” what three-year agreement Frost is referring to, she added.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com and Lori Fox at lori.fox@yukon-news.com

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