'Tragic impacts' as community groups in Winnipeg's core hit funding barriers, organizations say
Single mom credits network of inner-city programs for helping her escape 'scary lifestyle'
The future is bright for recent university graduate Elizabeth Linklater, but the single mother's success didn't come easily.
"I had a troubling upbringing," Linklater said, that led to a "scary lifestyle."
But she was able to emerge from that thanks, she says, to a network of community supports in Winnipeg that are now struggling to secure government funding.
For Linklater, that support included life-changing opportunities like a parenting course at Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, or developing income management skills through courses at Supporting Employment and Economic Development Winnipeg — which allowed her to start RRSPs for her kids and buy furniture for their home.
But numerous inner-city community organizations now say that while it's always been difficult to get funding, securing money for running programs has become even more challenging under the current provincial government.
Those concerns come amid a meth crisis and rise in citywide crime and violence — problems that inner-city advocates say arise out of the poverty, inadequate housing and trauma these community programs work to alleviate.
Many programs previously received grant funding through the provincial program Neighbourhoods Alive, which has underspent its budget by $600,000 to over $1 million each year since the Progressive Conservative government came into power in 2016.
The most recent Tory budget, released in May, rolled Neighbourhoods Alive and six other provincial programs into one, called Building Sustainable Communities.
The change came with new criteria for funding, and that produced a shift in where funds are going, said Shauna MacKinnon, associate professor in the University of Winnipeg's Urban and Inner City Studies department.
Salaries not eligible
Some Neighbourhoods Alive grants used to fully fund projects, MacKinnon said. In other cases, applicants were encouraged, but not mandated, to supplement the funding they received with outside, non-government sources.
That's changed under Building Sustainable Communities: applicants must now raise half of the funding for a project, which the province will match up to $75,000.
There are also funding restrictions. Employee salaries associated with running a project are not eligible for grant funding through Building Sustainable Communities, MacKinnon said.
In addition, application criteria and rules around who can apply have changed: while Neighbourhoods Alive focused on neighbourhoods and communities most in need, municipalities and organizations from across the province are now eligible, and the province has placed an emphasis on capital projects, said MacKinnon.
In the latest round of 24 funding announcements this summer, about 40 per cent went to groups or municipalities outside of Winnipeg. The rest was dispersed inside city limits, with 20 per cent of recipients in the North End, West End or surrounding areas. Most funding was for capital projects involving construction, renovation or facility upgrades — not programming.
"My theory is that, essentially, they want this to reach constituencies that are not inner-city constituencies," said MacKinnon.
"Neighbourhoods Alive was very much focused on inner-city neighbourhoods, vulnerable neighbourhoods," said MacKinnon. "These are not the constituencies that are Conservative."
The West Central Women's Resource Centre hasn't even bothered applying for program funding through Building Sustainable Communities, said executive director Lorie English.
"When you say we can have 50 per cent of the cost of the project up to a max of $75,000, but we can't include salary, well, that's the largest piece of the cost," English said.
"I can't run a program without a staff person to run it."
English said she has noticed that programming dollars seem to be flowing outside of the city's core.
"That's difficult for agencies like ours."
Cynthia Drebot, executive director of North End Women's Centre, said she is grateful for funding the centre receives through a provincial family violence prevention program.
But overall, securing funding has become more difficult and the centre is having to do "more with less" — and that's happening amid a meth crisis that complicates the kind of services that are needed, she said.
"We might be seeing the impact of some cuts now," she said.
"I often think of some of the things that we might've been able to do if we had continued to be able to support our health and wellness program, or other programs, in the last few years."
Funding unchanged: minister
Municipal Relations Minister Rochelle Squires said the barriers described by community groups can be explained by changes to how the province administers grants, and not by cuts.
"We recognize and value the work that they do, and that is why we have kept the funding in place [in] the same amount of funding that was available through the legacy programs," said Squires.
There has been no change in the core funding provided to neighbourhood renewal corporations either, said Squires, and the province has extended multi-year core funding agreements with a dozen such corporations.
Squires said the province is also providing funds through different avenues, including through mental health and addictions initiatives, the family violence prevention program and other strategic funding programs.
The West Central Women's Resource Centre's executive director, though, says the province's changes are affecting what groups like hers can do.
"We have the ability and the skills and the tools as non-profits throughout the city, and there are dozens and dozens of us to help build that capacity in people," said English.
"We need to do it alongside government with government's investment, and so once that gets pulled away … you will feel the impact of that," she said.
"I think we're feeling the impact of it now, and unfortunately it's been a tragic impact."
Elizabeth Linklater says it's community programs in the North End that helped her through dark times in her youth and young adulthood.
Originally from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, she was taken from her family and placed in the Child and Family Services system at the age of 12.
"I had to grow up really fast," she said.
After aging out of care, Linklater fell in with the wrong crowd, started using alcohol and drugs, and dropped out of school. She ended up homeless in Winnipeg, feeling hopeless, lost and alone.
She eventually found help, though, in the form of addictions support through Pritchard House — which offers culturally relevant treatment for First Nation people.
"I started to learn about my culture, my history and my identity as an Indigenous woman," said Linklater.
The journey continued in the ensuing years. She learned about the range of resources available through the North End Women's Centre, and other non-profits like it in and around Winnipeg's core.
In June, at 39, the mother of three graduated from the University of Winnipeg's Urban and Inner City Studies program, and she hopes to help others — just like the facilitators in community programs who helped her.
"I just want to be able to advocate for these people who are not really speaking up for themselves because they're used to being stigmatized, taken advantage of," she said.
With files from Information Radio