Hospitality Project funding axed
New Westminster Hospitality Project executive director Jaimie McEvoy says a federal funding cut means they may have to shut down next month.
But first he tells a story.
A family business in the B.C. Interior went bankrupt so the parents, two kids and a dog moved to the big city, recounts McEvoy.
They figured it would be easier to find a new job in Greater Vancouver than in their economically depressed town. But the high cost of living caught them off guard, and it looked like they’d have to live out of their truck.
They walked in the door at the Hospitality Project, based at Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church, and got the help they needed.
“It’s not easy to find places that will accept couples or a parent with kids. It’s even harder with a family with a pet they don’t want to lose. At the end of the day we had a place for them,” said McEvoy. “If these people had to figure it out on their own they wouldn’t have got that help any time soon.”
The church established the Hospitality Project about a decade ago. For the last eight years it has run advocacy and referral programs thanks to federal funding.
But last year the Conservative government adopted a Housing First strategy to homelessness.
It is now concentrating on construction instead of preventing homelessness, said McEvoy.
“We support that model (Housing First) as long as it’s not the only thing that’s happening. If it’s the only thing it doesn’t work,” said McEvoy, who is also a city councillor.
The Hospitality Project will lose $150,000 in annual funding as of April 20.
That will affect four employees, including McEvoy. Kimberly Hayek is the project’s triage coordinator, linking clients to services.
Robyn Kelly is a community advocate who will go to bat for those in tough living circumstances. She finds places for people to go before they become homeless.
“There’s an awful lot of people who don’t need to be homeless in the first place,” said McEvoy.
“We have a local focus. We might get more funding if we opened an office in the Downtown Eastside.
“There’s a lot more that needs to be done than just giving people a little room in the Downtown Eastside.”
The federal government announced last year it would provide $600 million over five years to refocus its strategy.
“The Housing First approach involves giving people who are homeless a place to live, and then providing necessary supports to help them stabilize their lives and recover,” says the Economic and Social Development Canada website.
“[T]he Housing first approach is an effective method to reduce homelessness and help those with mental illness.”
The Hospitality Project will continue to operate a weekly food bank and a community kitchen, said McEvoy.
The extent of what the Hospitality Project will be able to do without the funds is still being determined.
“It will be another week or so before I’ll have an idea what that will look like.”
McEvoy said they will likely look at partnering with other groups instead of competing for funding with them.
The church has been a champion of the project from the beginning.
But it’s in dire financial straits itself.
“It’s a very generous congregation, but there are still financial structural problems with the church,” said McEvoy.
The church will continue to provide space for the Hospitality Project, said Minister Shannon Tennant.
But even that’s in jeopardy. Shiloh’s financial woes have the congregation considering many options.
They include selling one or both of its two big, old buildings.
McEvoy is willing to continue working in some capacity even if it’s for a dollar a month.
“Obviously it’s a hit, but this is the kind of work you do for different reasons. Whether we can continue some level of the programming is not immediately known,” said McEvoy.
“How programs can be reinvented is a challenge.”