TORONTO A panel of womens rights and labour advocates say that pressure from funders and corporate-style fundraising boards of directors, is causing a fundamental shift in the provision of services at some women’s shelters.
Speaking at a Queens Park media conference today - International Womens Day - Doris Anderson, the former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), Zanana Akande, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations and Kathy Johnson, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Social Services Coordinator (Ontario), said that the provincial government must halt the creeping shift to clinical services at womens shelters and effectively deal with the issues of governance, accountability, and inclusion of boards of directors in the sector.
Womens shelters must also be given government support and adequate funding to establish and maintain independent, women-controlled services, free of harassment and racism. In addition, the government must enforce the Corporations Act as it applies to boards of non-profit agencies and take action to ensure agency boards of directors are representative of the community they serve.
These changes in services are creeping in. Clinical-type services are far removed from the original aim of shelters founded on feminist, activist principles of counselling, housing, and support for women in crisis. We are seeing some boards of directors not reflective of the women-centred philosophy, and who instead push a corporate mindset. And where we see these shifts, we see problems, said Anderson.
This shift to clinical services away from women-centred supports and women-controlled boards of directors began in 1998, when the Mike Harris Conservative government pushed accreditation of social workers under Bill 76. At that time many organizations, including OAITH (Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses) spoke against the Bill, particularly as it applied to social service workers doing anti-violence and violence against women work.
Currently, a lockout of shelter and outreach counsellors at Yellow Brick House Womens Shelter in Aurora is evidence of these creeping changes at womens shelters. Yellow Brick House management proposes to terminate long-time shelter counsellors, to make way for new university-educated workers with clinical training and Masters of Social Work degrees. Collectively the counsellors have 75 years work experience at the shelter, and they all have training specific to the work they do at the shelter.
The panel contends, there are two government ministries Community and Social Services and the Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, that have a direct responsibility to ensure that womens shelters are following the letter of law when it comes to how funding is used and how they are governed.
In the case of Yellow Brick House, we have written several letters to the social services minister outlining serious governance issues. We believe there are only three individuals all male on the current board of directors, who are making decisions on what should be a women-centred service.
Weve also raised concerns about a new Yellow Brick House fundraising arm called Pathway of Peace. And weve raised questions about how money flows between the two. Despite large amounts of fundraising, there is only $200 a week allocated for groceries, for up to 21 women and children. Theres something wrong with the priorities, said Johnson.
CUPE, the union representing the locked out shelter workers has asked Community and Social Services Minister Sandra Pupatello for an operational review of the agency. Also, the union is asking for an open democratic process to elect a new board of directors reflective of the community. But the ministry has yet to respond.
Whats truly horrendous at Yellow Brick House, is that the board is not an inclusive one and there is a pattern of discrimination and human rights abuses. They are targeting the very workers who have spoken out for quality services for women, and challenged racism oppression, discrimination and homophobia in the workplace.
The ministry is well aware of all these issues, yet they have done nothing. In the meantime, women fleeing violence in the community have no safe harbour because the shelter is closed, said Akande.
The Yellow Brick House lockout began on January 24th when management closed the shelter, locked out 38 workers and displaced residents to an insecure location.
For more information contact:
President, Urban Alliance on Race Relations
Former President NAC
(416) 292-3999 ext. 222
CUPE Social Services Coordinator