For 25 years, the Kelowna Women's Resource Centre has been helping women struggling with poverty or fleeing violence. But a lack of funds has forced the centre to close for the month of January while it comes up with a survival plan of its own.
"We're looking at really focusing on generating revenue," said the centre's executive director, Micki Smith. "We're trying to get enough funding to keep our doors open."
Ms. Smith and a group of volunteers operate the centre on a shoestring budget of about $100,000 a year. Close to 60 per cent of that money used to come from provincial gaming grants.
But for the current fiscal year, the B.C. government has reduced the centre's allocation by more than half, to $26,750.
That has left the centre scrambling to make up the shortfall through private donations, which have been hard to come by in tough economic times.
"We're not the only ones," said Ms. Smith. "As more and more organizations are needing to go to the community more and more for help, it has been more of a challenge for us to be able to do that as well."
The centre provides a safe space for women to drop in and get help with things like finding housing, accessing government programs, applying for jobs and escaping abusive relationships. Women looking for work can use the centre's computers and are provided with free photocopies, bus tickets and clothing for job interviews.
About 300 women a month use its services, said Ms. Smith.
Women like Sue Douglas, a 57-year-old former community health care worker who suffers from sclerosis. In 2006, Ms. Douglas was living in Vancouver when her condition deteriorated to the point where she could no longer walk, let alone work, and she ended up on welfare.
Her doctor suggested that a change in climate would improve her condition.
"My doctor told me you have to go somewhere where it's better for you like the Okanagan, so I came to Kelowna," said Ms. Douglas.
But once in Kelowna, which at the time had a vacancy rate of under one per cent, she couldn't find anywhere to live and ended up in an emergency shelter.
Ms. Douglas turned to the resource centre, where she got help applying for disability assistance and finding an apartment.
"They helped me with a letter begging a property management place to let me rent a place, which [they]finally actually did," said Ms. Douglas. "They helped me find my home, they helped me find my life again."
These days, her condition has improved to the point where she now volunteers at the centre, giving other women the assistance she once needed.
Ms. Douglas said many of the women who come into the centre "are badly abused, physically and mentally." She called the centre "a very essential program."
The government, she added, "should really wake up and smell the coffee."
During the closing, the centre is working on a restructuring plan that puts a greater emphasis on fundraising. As part of those efforts, it secured a $5,000 emergency grant from the City of Kelowna, which has been matched by a local philanthropist.
"It was a surprise and very much appreciated," said Ms. Smith, who added the money will allow the centre to reopen two days a week, starting February 1.
The Kelowna women's centre is not alone, said the provincial NDP's housing and social development critic, Shane Simpson.
He noted that even though the province's gambling revenues have gone up every year to more than $1-billion, the $120-million awarded to community non-profit organizations through gaming grants is $36-million less than it was two years ago.
"That's taken about 800 organizations right out of the mix and reduced the amount of support for a significant amount of the rest of them," he said.
Gaming grants are the responsibility of Solicitor-General Rich Coleman. A ministry spokesperson said he was unavailable for comment.
Special to The Globe and Mail