An Edmonton agency that supports LGBTQ homeless youth says it expects its funding to be cut by the Alberta government as Children’s Services trims $12 million from early intervention contracts.
In an email to the community health and wellness (CHEW) project on Tuesday afternoon, a Children’s Services official said the project was not selected as a lead proposal in the province’s new Family Resource Network to provide early intervention and prevention services.
“In the unlikely event that we are not able to finalize a grant agreement with a lead proponent, we would then connect with those proponents who achieved the minimum scoring required to be in consideration,” the email said.
The government is currently negotiating with the lead service proposals, according to the email. It does not clarify the scoring criteria or whether CHEW met the minimum requirements.
“At this time, as it appears unlikely you will be awarded a grant, you may wish to proceed with the final steps in winding up your contract or grant with Children’s Services,” it said.
“Formal notification will occur in the next few weeks.”
In November, Children’s Services cancelled contracts with 300 organizations across the province, including CHEW, then asked the organizations to reapply for funding under a restructured Family Resource Network.
The government has called the previous contracts over-complicated and said the move would save $12 million.
‘Impossible to sustain’
CHEW, part of the University of Alberta’s institute for sexual minority studies and services, has run a downtown support centre that offers LGBTQ homeless youth daytime respite, counselling services and connections to healthcare and housing supports since 2014.
Former and current clients have hailed the project as a life-saving intervention for young people, ranging from 10 years old to their early 20s, at the margins of Edmonton’s homeless community.
“I think based on the previous research that we’ve done, we’ve shown that there’s a need to do something for these kids. That there’s a gap in services and that we also have a responsibility — a lot of these kids were in Children Service’s at one time or are in now and their needs aren’t being met,” said project coordinator Corey Wyness.
Director Andre Grace says the email effectively tells him the government has cut the project’s funding just before a new fiscal year begins on April 1.
“It’s virtually impossible to sustain the CHEW project without some sort of grant, just for the basics,” said Grace, an educational psychology professor at the University of Alberta.
CHEW reapplied for $200,000 in annual funding to help run a new downtown space and bolster its staff, Grace said. The previous contract with Children’s Services was for roughly $130,000.
Wyness called the government’s decision heart-breaking.
“It just blows me away that all of a sudden we’re going to take services specifically for these youth away and give them nothing again,” he said.
In an email to CBC News on Thursday, Children’s Services spokesperson Lauren Armstrong said proposals were evaluated on whether an organization demonstrated its ability to deliver services based on adherence to the Resiliency and Wellbeing Framework, a policy document developed by the previous government.
Armstrong said she would not comment on specific proposals while negotiations are ongoing.
“However, non-lead proponents may be funded if other negotiations are unsuccessful or gaps in service emerge,” she said.
Wyness, the project’s only full-time staff, says he has a plan to keep the centre open for another year without government grants, but it could mean staffing changes or fewer opening hours. A counsellor, Indigenous liaison officer and outreach coordinator work on a part-time basis with volunteer help to support about 80 regular clients.
The race is on to secure other grants and funding, Grace and Wyness said.
“We’re a community that’s used to fighting. So we’re going to continue to find ways to do that and keep that hope there,” Wyness said. “We’ve got to instill that hope in these kids, because they’re coming from hopelessness.”
The project is almost entirely funded by the Alberta government, Wyness said, with some support from private donors.
Wyness learned about the news a day after he unveiled the project’s new location to the public on Monday.
The centre had been housed in a 300 square foot basement unit on Jasper Avenue at 117th Street since it launched in 2014. The new space, just a few doors down, is nearly six times bigger with dedicated space for counselling sessions, a kitchen and ample space for youth to rest.
The move was supported by a $40,000 online fundraising effort and an additional $32,000 raised by the Lillian Osborne High School during its annual “Rock-a-thon”.
Do you have more information about the Family Resources Network? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.