Nfld. & Labrador

A group that helps survivors of sexual exploitation ran out of money. Here's what happened next

A program helping young people in Newfoundland and Labrador looking to exit the sex trade has been forced to downsize after federal funding dried up and the provincial government refused to pick up the slack.

Program has gone from 50 clients to 12, says Thrive executive director

Angela Crockwell is the executive director of Thrive, the organization which runs Blue Door. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

A program helping young people in Newfoundland and Labrador looking to exit the sex trade has been forced to downsize after federal funding dried up and the provincial government refused to pick up the slack.

The Blue Door program, run by non-profit organization Thrive, helps survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking — primarily young women and girls — find support for housing, substance use, food security, employment and education, health and more. 

"Blue Door really did fill a gap in service around that one-stop shop, full wrap-around supports for people who had a shared experience around engagement in the sex trade," Thrive executive director Angela Crockwell told CBC News.

"There's nowhere that you can go in the community where you're going to get that kind of intensive, specialized service specific to you if you've had this experience."

Ottawa funded the program for five years beginning in 2017, but that funding ended in February. Crockwell requested $417,000 in annual funding from the provincial government last fall, but the money never came. The funding would pay for five staff members and the resources needed to run the program, which primarily helps youth and young adults ages 14 to 29,  said Crockwell.

Backup plan

Since the funding dried up, the program has been forced to reduce its clients from 50 people down to just 12, Crockwell said. Blue Door transitioned clients out of the program and connected them with other community organizations that could help meet various needs.

"They now might have to access three or four or five agencies to get their needs met, whereas before they could have had that one-stop shop with our program," Crockwell explained.

Rachel Barnes is co-chair of Fundraising for Women. (Submitted by Rachel Barnes)

Crockwell commended the community partners that have worked to accommodate Blue Door clients, but emphasized that survivors of sexual exploitation need specialized services.

St. John's organization Fundraising for Women, which is not affiliated with Thrive, organized a petition asking the government to fund the program. The petition garnered more than 25,000 signatures.

Rachel Barnes, Fundraising for Women co-chair, said she was surprised by the level of support for the petition.

"I think it really goes to show that people think the Blue Door program is essential and they don't want it to close."

The government's role

Crockwell submitted formal funding requests to four government departments and the premier's office last fall. She believes the provincial government has an ethical obligation to help survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking.

"We can't leave young victims and survivors kind of flailing in the community and trying to find the supports and services. So I think, really, it's a matter of priority," Crockwell said. "If the provincial government really ... wanted to support this, across government departments [they] could find the money to leverage the support."

A square from a quilt that decorates a wall at Thrive in St. John's. This square represents the Blue Door program, which helps people who want to get out of the sex trade. (CBC )

Earlier in April, Women and Gender Equality Minister Pam Parsons told reporters her office doesn't have the resources to fund Blue Door.

"[They've] met with my office and, of course, we're committed to working with them on ways … they can apply for new funding should they wish to continue this program," she said.

Parsons pointed to the Safe Harbour Outreach Program, which advocates for people in the sex trade, as one initiative continuing the work of Blue Door. Crockwell said SHOP provides a valuable service — but it's very different than Blue Door.

"I think we really need both programs to be able to make sure people are getting their needs met depending on what their experience is."

Crockwell said Thrive has the resources to fund Blue Door at its current level until the end of March 2023, and is still trying to secure more funding from the federal and provincial government.

"We'll be working hard for the next 12 months to make sure we're able to sustain this program long term."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Malone Mullin

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