Nova Scotia

Halifax counselling agency that 'never turned anybody away' shuts down

An increasingly competitive fundraising market and loss of an important contract has combined to spell the end of Family Service Halifax Association, which offered counselling for individuals, families, children and people in relationships on a variety of issues, including addictions and abuse.

Family Service Halifax Association helped people with limited ability to pay

Family Service Halifax Association offered counselling services to people who often wouldn't have been able to afford them otherwise. (Evan Aagaard/CBC)

A funding shortfall has forced a long-running counselling service in Halifax to close its doors.

Family Service Halifax Association was started in the 1950s by the Archdiocese of Halifax. Eventually, the church divested of the program and it became an independent non-profit affiliated with Family Service Canada.

The association offered counselling for individuals, families, children and people in relationships on a variety of issues, including addictions and abuse.

Board chair Mary Clancy said the team of 9½ staff positions, which included four full-time counsellors with masters degrees or higher, did its best to meet the needs of everyone who came their way. More often than not, they were serving a population that wouldn't otherwise have been able to afford such services, said Clancy.

"They're the working poor," she said, noting that most people were just above the threshold that would have qualified them for help from the Community Services Department.

"Like, he might drive a taxi and she might work as a checker at Sobeys and they've got four kids."

Challenging fundraising environment

Although the service has been effective and sees about 1,400 clients a year, Clancy said it always walked a fine line financially.

"There's not a non-profit in the province that's on a sound financial basis," she said.

"You're living hand to mouth. And that's nobody's fault, because there's a limited number of dollars whether you're talking about provincial money or fundraising money."

The agency had an annual budget of about $700,000, about $275,000 of which was coming from the provincial government, with the rest left to fundraising.

Loss of important contract

But Clancy said in recent years, with an increasingly competitive fundraising market, it was becoming increasingly difficult to raise the money they needed. She and the executive director started to become particularly concerned about two years ago when they lost a major donor.

"[We were] calling every person we knew with a solid bank balance to try and raise money," said Clancy.

"We needed a donor who could give us in the area of [$250,000] a year."

Clancy said "the straw that broke the camel's back" came last week, when the board learned they were underbid for a major contract to accept clients through an employee assistance program, something she said was a "huge loss" to the association's bottom line.

Mary Clancy says Family Service Halifax Association's clientele was the working poor. (CBC)

"It was just no longer viable."

As they wind down the operation, Clancy said they're trying to get their clients assistance elsewhere without interrupting their treatment programs. That will be easier for some people than others, she said, because of some clients' ability to pay.

"We had very short waiting lists and, of course, probably our biggest problem was we never turned anybody away," said Clancy.

A spokesperson for the Community Services Department said officials would ensure any clients of the department who were also clients of Family Services Halifax Association would be redirected to other counselling and therapeutic services.