Osborne House struggles for funds

Community activists and supporters of  Osborne House are rallying together to save the prominent Winnipeg shelter for women and children facing domestic abuse. Osborne House has been around for 40 years.

A steep decline in private donations to the shelter forced them to knock on the city of Winnipeg’s door for help, a plea that was ultimately denied on March 23.

Osborne House is one of only two shelters in Winnipeg.

Barbara Judt, CEO of  Osborne House, said she had been communicating with the city of Winnipeg for approximately six months, asking the city to commit $450,000 of their upcoming budget to funding for the shelter.

Judt said she was told part of the reasoning behind the city’s decision was that the request was not received far enough in advance.

A spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg explained that the city has never had funding for the shelter in its operating budget, and that funding for shelters is a provincial responsibility.

“The City believes that funding of shelters is an important matter on a province-wide basis, as part of a provincial strategy to reduce domestic violence,” said Steve West, manager of corporate communications for the City of Winnipeg.

A letter signed by several student representatives from the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg, stating that they were “greatly disappointed” by the city’s decision, was sent to mayor Sam Katz.

“If denied this funding, Osborne House will be forced to lay off essential staff and to close their doors to many women and children who need that safety resource,” the letter states

Jennifer Black, coordinator of the Womyn’s Centre at the University of Manitoba, who helped organize a rally to protest the city’s decision, said she has found the experience to be profoundly frustrating.

“They just shut them down completely. They actually didn’t ask her any questions at all, or give her any advice or point her towards any other resources,” Black said.

On a brighter note, the community seems to have realized this and stepped in to help, Black said.

“There has been incredible support from local businesses and there have been some fundraisers that have been held in support of  Osborne House,” Black said.

Along with private donations, the province of Manitoba is the current primary source of funding for the house. Judt said she was recently contacted by the province about conducting a review of funding for the shelter.

The review, which is currently underway, will look over the programming and how the shelter is run. The shelter’s goal is to receive more funding from the province, which will go toward food, restoring the programs and first aid for the women and children, Judt said.

Currently there is a 24/7 crisis line for those in need. Therapists are available to support women and children, help them through their crises and aim for future prevention.

“We do protection planning, we’ll advocate for clients, we help build housing and we have outreach programs. So we’ve got some very long established programs that have been great support,” Judt said.

There are resources available for male victims of domestic abuse who also have the safety of their children to keep in mind, she explained.

Osborne House will continue to work with the province of Manitoba in hopes of reaching an agreement on what they feel is necessary to continue with a level of service that is vital for the health of domestic abuse victims.

While they work toward this goal, the Womyn’s Centre will continue to hound the city with letters until they receive the attention they feel is necessary, Black said.

“We’re really empathetic towards this cause and we think that it impacts the safety of every woman in Winnipeg who might potentially need a safe resort,” Black said.