Women’s Support Network seeks municipal support for increased provincial funding | Spare News

York Region’s Women’s Support Network (WSN) is experiencing growing demand for its services, but urgently needs funding. So he turns to the municipalities for help.

“The reality is that we are an essential service, and we need a level of funding to help maintain operations,” said Dr. Jackie Benn-John, executive director of WSN York Region, adding that the pandemic has exacerbated this need.

Established in 1992, the non-profit charity provides free, non-judgmental and confidential support to anyone who has experienced sexual violence in their lifetime.

A recent Statistics Canada report found that sexual assault rates in 2021 were at the highest level since 1996.

Last year, WSN received an impressive 3,726 calls through its 24-hour hotline and chat support services, a 68% increase over the previous year. ‘last year. This is just one of many statistics that prove that sexual violence is a growing problem.

The majority of WSN’s funding comes from the province.

According to Benn-John, an increase in funding for sexual assault agencies was announced in 2018 but never happened. Then, in 2021, approximately $2.1 million over three years was allocated to address gender-based violence, but the funding structure was project-based and not intended to meet service and operational demands of existing sexual assault centers.

To obtain project funding, the center must propose an initiative targeting specific issues; however, survivors need care and support that is versatile and covers a wide range of needs. Project-based funding is also limited – a fixed amount for a fixed period, and it is not renewable.

Additionally, when staff are already scarce, valuable time and effort is required to complete detailed grant applications.

The center has also been impacted by fewer fundraising opportunities due to pandemic restrictions and less donation revenue overall.

Sustained funding, Benn-John explained, is essential to meet the complex and growing needs of survivors and the operational costs of ensuring that qualified and skilled staff and volunteers are ready and able to meet the vast needs of those affected. are looking for help.

Staff burnout in the sector is typical and turnover is high. Without the ability to pay competitive salaries, WSN currently has more contract staff than full-time staff, reducing service stability and consistency.

“We’re really lucky to have such a dedicated staff right now. A lot of it comes from their hearts, as it should. I don’t think you can do this job without that kind of personal investment. But they have need to eat. We want to pay them more for the work they do,” said Ogho Ikhalo, Corporate Secretary of the WSN York Region Board of Directors.

Currently, WSN has only one center that serves all nine municipalities in York Region. The satellite locations would greatly improve the center’s accessibility and its ability to provide robust services, Ikhalo added.

The path to healing for survivors of sexual violence is rarely straightforward, and very often a help-seeker comes to the center with more than one problem presented.

“Sometimes there’s a very specific idea of ​​what healing looks like, or success, or what that journey looks like,” says Shannon Seeraj, program manager for WSN of York Region.

The center supports survivors of sex trafficking and recent and historic experiences of sexual violence which may have occurred weeks, months or years before a person sought help. In some cases, Seeraj explained, an individual may have blocked certain aspects of their life that emerge through the individual’s work with the center.

Staff must also be adaptable to meet the needs of adult survivors, which are different from those of young survivors.

Despite the complexity of survivors’ needs, Benn-John says funding levels are often enough to meet the centre’s immediate needs in a crisis. A 24-hour crisis line, online chat support, and walk-in virtual sessions help with initial needs, but longer-term supports are just as essential.

A lack of funding creates wait times at the center for longer term services. Private practice remains the only option when help is urgently needed, but most survivors do not have the money to pay for expensive private care.

Education is another essential objective of the center which requires financial support. By providing resources and teaching individuals how to be safe, WSN aims to be proactive. Without adequate funding, the center is in reactive mode, says Benn-John.

Recognizing that WSN is not always the first point of contact for survivors seeking support, the organization provides training to community partners such as York Region Paramedic Services, as well as local government agencies and provincial. The aim is to prepare them to respond compassionately to disclosures of sexual violence and to provide a safe space for victims.

“We want to prevent customers from having a negative service experience to reduce the risk of being re-victimized, going elsewhere, delaying access to much-needed support, or going nowhere,” explained Benn-John.

The center currently offers educational sessions on human trafficking to parents and caregivers. Often loved ones contact WSN to find out how to support a victim who is not yet ready to seek help. Teaching family members is a valuable opportunity for the center to help, even indirectly.

WSN is counting on the help of the municipal governments of York Region to approve their resolution calling on the Government of Ontario to provide increased and sustainable funding to WSN and other Community Sexual Assault Centers .

“It is really important that our councilors support our resolution. Municipal councilors play an important role in sharing local priorities at the provincial level. They can do it. They can recognize regional issues and share them provincially because they have access to them. “, explained Benn-John.

By informing local elected officials of their urgent funding needs, WSN is counting on them to be their spokesperson during pre-budget consultations with the province.

To date, Aurora and Whitchurch-Stouffville councils have approved the resolution.

WSN hopes to receive support from Markham and other York Region municipalities in the coming weeks.

Visit womenssupportnetwork.ca for information.

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