A Whitehorse support program for women and children has secured funding for another year, thanks to a $59,000 commitment from the Yukon government.
A Safe Place has been run out of the Victoria Faulkner Women’s Centre since December 2013, but has struggled to find consistent funding.
The new money comes from the Justice Department and the women’s directorate. The Prevention of Violence Against Aboriginal Women Fund will provide an additional $25,000.
A Safe Place provides women with meals, coffee and a place to spend time on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m.
“The most important piece of the program is it’s low-barrier,” said Hillary Aitken, program coordinator at the women’s centre. That means all women are welcome, including those who have been drinking or taking drugs, as long as they’re not a danger to themselves or others.
Aitken said the program grew out of research from the Yukon Status of Women Council, which showed a lack of services available for women after Friday at 5 p.m. A Safe Place is meant to fill that gap.
Women can come to read or play games, but they’re not obliged to do anything at all. There is a knitting circle once a month, and a nurse also stops by monthly. Children are welcome as well.
Aitken said many of the women who come to A Safe Place are homeless or precariously housed. Many also struggle with food insecurity.
She said many women also come for the sense of community and safety and belonging.
What she frequently hears from the women, she said, is that “they’re not judged. It’s truly safe and it’s low-barrier and they feel that all women are welcome.”
Aitken said between 100 and 120 women typically come to A Safe Place each month. Last weekend, about 45 women showed up.
But she said the number of women can vary widely, in part because funding for the program has been unstable.
“When we have the funding and capacity for staff to do direct outreach and promotion … then attendance does peak,” she said.
Pilot funding for A Safe Place ran out in July 2014. The Community Development Fund kicked in some additional money in November of that year to keep the program afloat, but that ran out in July 2015.
“As that piece of money was nearing its end, we knew that we couldn’t shut the program down,” Aitken said.
Instead, they approached the Justice Department and the women’s directorate, who gave them a one-time cheque for $39,000 to keep them going till the end of this fiscal year.
The Prevention of Violence Against Aboriginal Women Fund also pledged $50,000 over two years.
Aitken said this latest $59,000 commitment is enough to keep the program alive for another year. But she said the women’s centre submitted two possible budgets to the government – a “bare-bones” budget and a larger version that would have allowed A Safe Place to expand its services.
The government chose the “bare-bones” budget.
Aitken added that this is a one-time agreement, but she hopes it will be renewed.
Still, she said the fact that A Safe Place needs to exist is evidence of a “disturbing trend.”
“It’s horrible that this program needs to exist,” she said. “I wish there would be a time when women don’t need a safe place to come on a weekend, when everyone has secure and stable housing and enough income.”
Aitken said the women’s centre is also collecting community donations to support A Safe Place. Donations can be made at www.vfwomenscentre.com.
Contact Maura Forrest at