When we are faced as a community with the vulnerabilities of homelessness, poverty, mental illness and addictions, we are brought face to face with our own capacity to take responsibility for our own actions and the actions of the communities in which we live. When we examine this a little further, we are also faced with the inequities of race and gender. If we have any hope of looking our children in the eye when we tell them we want to leave them a better world, we must face these issues.
Many things are better. Over the last 200 years the global poverty rate has diminished year over year, equality is enshrined into many country’s laws, and quality of life has improved in many places. However, we still have miles to go before we sleep. This week I was deeply shaken by the news that My Sisters’ Place would not receive ongoing funding from The City of London.
Many have written to our City Council about this and the story has been covered in our local media but the story still bears repeating here. My Sisters’ Place is focused on services for women in our community who face issues of homelessness, addiction and mental illness. My Sisters’ Place is an environment where these women, who often have little reason to trust, can feel safe and begin to get the help they need when they need it. This last bit, the help they need when they need it, is a critical one. This meets the women where they are, when they need it, and with the respect and compassion they deserve. The Important thing is no one else in our community does this work through this critical gender lens.
Women’s Community House & The Sexual Assault Centre of London do critical, brilliant work and are strong partners with My Sisters’ Place, but My Sisters’ Place does something different. They help find housing and create stability for women on the street. Unfortunately the issue of reduced funding, a total of $116,000, from The City of London faced by My Sisters’ Place, speaks volumes to the growing unease we have in finding an end the issues of poverty, homelessness, and equality.
City programs allow non-profits to apply, guided by City of London staff, to a fund that meets a community need. The non-profit, in this case My Sisters’ Place, then creates the documentation and the reason they need this funding and what outcomes they will meet if successful. This is a very long and involved process that can often take months of work. What is important to understand is that My Sisters’ Place already receives funding through the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. My Sisters’ Place was denied funding, for which they had previously been successful, for the Housing First/Homelessness Prevention Strategy which is a part of the Federal Governments Homeless Partnering Strategy funding.
The decision was made by a group of volunteers made up of representatives of the London Homeless Coalition Steering Committee, London Police Service, Middlesex London Health Unit, London Public Library, United Way of London and Middlesex, Service Canada and the City of London. The staff of My Sisters’ Place did not have an opportunity to make a presentation on the merits of their application to this panel or any opportunity to answer their concerns. Nor do we know how the application was presented or framed for the members of the committee.
In terms of process then, we had City staff directing an organization regarding where and how to apply, guiding them through that process, the application presented to a committee without representation by My Sisters’ Place, and were notified that $116,000/year was no longer available to serve the women of My Sisters’ Place.
I have complete confidence that the volunteers on this committee acted in good faith and made a decision with the best information they had at the time. But the question remains is whether that information was enough to provide a context for this decision given My Sisters’ Place did not present nor have an opportunity to answer questions or concerns? Perhaps, but we do not know.
We cannot blame our City Council for this circumstance either as they had no part of this decision at all. I am aware that many members of Council have supported My Sisters’ Place in the past and believe in their work. There is an appeal process fro My Sisters Place but if it is to staff as opposed to council then we continue with the issues stated above.
In the end though, the circumstances of this decision are irrelevant.
What is relevant is that a community organization that supports the most vulnerable women in our community, and already raises funds to cover 70% of their operating costs, is now left with a serious and damaging hole in the work they do. The effect will not be closing the doors of My Sisters’ Place. The effect will be a reduction of services for these women who already have so little and face huge barriers.
What does this say about us? What does this say about London?
While I am excited by the work I do on city building, the plans our community has for rapid transit, The London Plan, and our Mayor’s call to make London the startup capital of Canada, we cannot, nor should we ever, create a future in which our most vulnerable are left behind to watch us fade from view while we move forward toward a brighter future. But a future without them?
The consequence of this decision does not represent the spirit of this community nor the very generous way it has continually stepped up and faced the issues of homelessness, addictions, and mental illness. Nor does it represent the belief our community has that Women are as valued as Men irrespective of circumstance.
If we want to leave a better world then we have to accept responsibility for that and act on our beliefs and not just mouth them. Ensuring that vulnerable women are served in London through the lens and uniqueness of gender is a part of that action. My Sisters’ Place then becomes a concrete example of our commitment to that belief and action. From this perspective, how can the City of London not continue to fund My Sisters’ Place?
I am confident that the citizens of London will say that we must support these women and fund My Sisters’ Place. Because that’s who Londoners are. Not willing to leave the vulnerable behind.