Avalon Sexual Assault Centre can't rely 100% on government funding

Nova Scotia's minister of community services says the backlog being experienced at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre is not a new problem and encourages the group to do more fundraising.

'No non-profit should rely completely on government funding. It puts them in a very precarious situation'

Joanne Bernard says non-profits can't rely on the government for all of their funding. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Nova Scotia's minister of community services says the backlog being experienced at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre is not a new problem and encourages the group to do more fundraising.

The group receives core funding from the province to cover basic needs for the centre, said Joanne Bernard.

"They've also had extraordinary jumps in funding when the need has arised — particularly after the Rehtaeh Parsons tragedy," she said.

"No non-profit should rely completely on government funding. It puts them in a very precarious situation. As a former executive director, I never relied 100 per cent on government funding. You just can't."

45 Nova Scotian 'in crisis' waiting for treatment

Her response comes after Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie took aim at the Liberal government for the six-month wait for some counselling services at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie took aim at the Liberal government for the six-month wait for some counselling services at the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre. (CBC)

"There are 45 Nova Scotians, in crisis, on a wait list, today. Some of them are going to wait six months to get the help they need," said Baillie.

"People on wait lists, when they're in crisis, are not sitting at home by the phone waiting patiently for the call. They need help."

The centre realized about five years ago that it was under-resourced and couldn't sustain its existing services, even with core government funding.

Avalon has been looking for other ways, alongside government funding, to keep its programs running and growing. That includes corporate funding and a crowdfunding campaign.

Number keeps rising

Jackie Stevens, executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre, said the number of people turning to Avalon continues to rise, especially those who say they've suffered sexual abuse within the last year. That's despite support from the Nova Scotia government's $6-million sexual violence initiative announced last year.

Jackie Stevens is the executive director of the Avalon Sexual Assault Centre in Halifax. (Anjuli Patil/CBC)

She told CBC's Information Morning in a statement that, though Avalon is in need of more core funding, the money shouldn't necessarily come from government. Hence, Avalon's efforts to expand its fundraising.  

Bernard also said there are other counselling services available.

"In the past the health authority has offered up psychologists that are trained in sexual assault areas," she said.

"No one organization, no one level of government owns sexual violence services in Nova Scotia and that's why we've really tried to look at co-ordinating those services and we've done a good job of it."​

Avalon 'promotes systemic and social change'

Baillie said if the core funding provided is not sufficient to cover the needs at Avalon, the province should look at increasing it.

"Why would you sit back and let that happen when centres like Avalon are telling this government they need more core funding to meet the demand?" said Baillie.

"The demand for their services, the demand for intervention, for counselling — it's going up because people need help. It's not enough to say they need some core funding. They need enough funding to meet the needs of the people that are in crisis because they've been victims of sexual violence."

Avalon aims not only to support survivors but also "promote systemic and social change."

Stevens said Avalon's sexual assault nurse examiner program, which provides forensic examinations to recent victims, has seen the highest numbers in its history this year.

According to its 2014-2015 annual report, Avalon received 300 new requests for counselling services last year, the second highest since the program began in 1996.

About the Author

Cassie Williams

Reporter/Editor

Seasick marine biologist, turned journalist. I live in Halifax.

With files from CBC's Information Morning, The Canadian Press