The victim assistance program on the islands has been cut dramatically at a time when the need likely has never been greater.
As of January 1, budget cuts announced by the government began to take hold, and the program, which had a budget of $68,000 per year, is now trying to make do with $48,000. To make ends meet, the two co-ordinators, one in Masset, the other in Queen Charlotte have taken a reduction in hours, to 14 per week from 19.
“For us it’s a really big deal because our work is all crisis oriented,” said Jen Burt, Queen Charlotte coordinator. “If we are not here when a women comes out of the hospital, people have a hard time finding us in the community. It means that we may not be available for some people.”
She says that while the government has cut the program’s funding by 30-percent, it’s going to result in an almost 50-percent cut in services on the islands. “We have to cut all the corners that we can,” Ms Burt said.
The cuts are badly timed, since program workers say the economic slump means their services are needed more.
“Especially with the local economics, we are seeing a lot different family dynamics in our communities now, and some women are further isolated because of them,” Ms Burt said.
Ironically, the cuts come about a year after program workers were told they were high on the province’s list for more funding, because program statistics here have been consistently high for more than a decade. They also come at a time when Masset RCMP for one are reporting a substantial increase in relationship violence, up to a six-fold increase since 1996.
Like other government cuts, these took almost no notice of the remote nature of the islands. Ms Burt says the cuts were made with a funding formula that had nothing to do with statistics or the program’s case load, but had to do with population only.
The cuts took effect January 1, and Ms Burt is worried that if more come, it might result in the closing of the women’s centre.
She says program workers are open to community input, and she’d be happy to hear any ideas on finding more funding.
“It doesn’t mean that the need is any less, in fact it is actually more, despite the fact we do not have government support,” Ms Burt said.
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