Uncertain future for Regina street aid agency

The executive director of a Regina agency that tries to help prostitutes says their doors may close if they lose more program funds.

The executive director of a Regina agency that tries to help prostitutes says their doors may close if they lose more program funds.

The Street Workers Advocacy Project, or SWAP, depends on federal and provincial support.

Barb Lawrence, the executive director, says they recently learned federal money for an education program is coming to an end in March.

She is also concerned that provincial dollars, for other SWAP programs, may also be cut.

Lawrence says as they lose dollars they lose the ability to keep the place running in its current location in Regina's north central neighbourhood.

"It's just a very, very busy place," Lawrence said of the drop-in centre that opened on Albert Street in April, 1994. It also has space for counseling.

"It's a resource that street-involved people feel comfortable accessing and coming into and looking for support and help in dealing with their issues," she said. "Without that support, those people will have no place to turn to."

Lawrence says their current location is ideal because it is close to the people they serve.

Lawrence said the agency currently has about 16 people working with prostitutes and others involved in street life.

She says they may have to cut back staff to just two.

"If we go back down to the position of having two staff, it becomes simply a crisis-response situation that, for all intents and purposes, is quite ineffective," she said.

SWAP began operations in 1994 and focuses primarily on prostitutes, but has expanded to work with other street people.

Federal dollars had been supporting an alternative education program. Money for that came from an initiative known as the Regina Urban Aboriginal Strategy.

"The thing that people need to realize is that for folks on the street, they have so many issues and challenges in their life that it's virtually impossible for the majority of them to take that leap from the street into places like SIAST [the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology] or other alternative academic programs in the community," she said.

"The issues and challenges they face are just too huge," she explained, saying their clients need a lot of intensive support just to stabilize their lives. "Without those services and additional supports, it becomes impossible for them to move on in their lives."

Lawrence said the consequences could be devastating.

"It will close the door to the vast majority of them to be able to move forward and off the street," she said.

Lawrence said two staff members have volunteered to stick around an additional month, even after federal funding ends.

Provincial funds also in jeopardy

The provincial government provides funding for another SWAP program aimed at helping prostitutes prepare for employment.

However, they were only provided a three-month long commitment of funds.

"So much of our funding, including our core infrastructure costs are supported by project funding, which is a really precarious situation," Lawrence explained. "If you lose some of those projects, you lose the ability to financially support your general operations."

She says one of the challenges they face is building trust with people who already believe society does not have much use for them.

"They realize that the larger community seems to have little value in them and in their lives," Lawrence said. "When we do this kind of hit and miss programming where we fund a program for five or six months and then shut it down, it's like we pull the rug out from under their feet."

She says when programs start and stop there are gaps in service which lead to relapses.

"If there is not an access to those opportunities, they fall right back into that same community," Lawrence said.

She added losing program funding is a slippery slope because in the struggle to control costs, they may have to move and a smaller, less accessible space could affect their ability to restart programs down the road.