Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
COMMUNITY SERVICES COMMITTEE
Ms. Marilyn More (Chairman)
Mr. Mark Parent
Mr. Gary Hines
Ms. Judy Streatch
Mr. Jerry Pye
Mr. Gordon Gosse
Mr. Stephen McNeil
Mr. Leo Glavine
Ms. Diana Whalen
Ms. Mora Stevens
Legislative Committee Clerk
Ms. Joanne Bernard
Ms. Alison MacDonald
HALIFAX, THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15, 2005
STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY SERVICES
Ms. Marilyn More
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Good morning. I will bring the Standing Committee on Community Services to order. Today we have on our agenda representatives from Alice Housing. We will start with introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We have Joanne Bernard, who is the Executive Director of Alice Housing, and Alison MacDonald, who is on the board of directors. We are very pleased to have you with us this morning. I understand you want to start your opening presentation with a short video.
MS. JOANNE BERNARD: This video was produced for us for public relations and media relations. It is nine minutes and 14 seconds and it will probably encompass everything about Alice Housing that I could say in three hours, so I think it's very important that we watch it, and then we'll discuss the video if you want, or more importantly, what Alice Housing does and what it means to the community, after.
[9:08 a.m. The video presentation commenced.]
[9:17 a.m. The video presentation concluded.]
MS. BERNARD: Those two women who agreed to take part in that video are current tenants of Alice Housing. Kristy was in the process of trying to be a firefighter. She made the first cut and missed the physical cut by 18 seconds. She's now actually trying out for the police department. So she has Plan B and Plan C in place. Denise is actually a tenant of third-stage housing of Alice Housing. It was interesting to see her psychology book open there, because she got her first mark back yesterday, an 85. She's enrolled full-time in Nova Scotia Community College. In fact, out of the 24 women we currently have, 10 of them are in some sort of post-secondary education, which is something that we really push at Alice Housing.
They've given their permission for this to be used as a tool to go out and educate the community on what Alice Housing does and give a little insight into what they've been through. Kristy is the mother of four boys, and Denise is the mother of an 8-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy. It's very gratifying to see those stories. There are many more like that from Alice Housing. Then there are many more that aren't as positive or as uplifting.
I guess I'll just start. I had a little bit in the video about where the concept of Alice Housing had come from in 1983. With the opening of Bryony House in 1978, the staff and the board of directors of Bryony House were noticing a disturbing trend of women constantly coming back through the doors of Bryony House because, simply, after they left after six weeks, they had no place to go. So, obviously, a second-stage opportunity was needed.
At the time funding was secured, and two buildings were bought. At that time, we were just 13 units throughout Dartmouth - all our units are actually in Dartmouth. A couple of years later another set of properties were bought, and they were two sets of duplexes, four units, and that's where our families go. Currently we have four families there, four women with 13 children between the four of them.
When the Supporting Communities Partnership Initiative was put forth in the early part of 2000-01, we were able to buy one more set of apartments and that had five units. Then last year we were able to buy a set of flats, because we had commissioned someone to do a study on the need for third-stage housing, which is after the women leave second-stage housing. If they're in university or in secondary education, they still need the ongoing support. So we opened three units on May 1st and they were full on May 2nd. The units that these three women came from, the second stage, those units were filled quickly after. It's like sand, it just keeps filling in.
Alice Housing currently has 25 units. We are 24 full, so that means 24 women, 23 children. We have a wait list. We are not accepting families anymore. I've had to make that call to Bryony House this week, which is a call I don't like to make and they don't like to hear. I simply have no place for families. I only have apartments that are one bedroom, and I only have one vacancy and three women vying for that vacancy.
We have been full for most of the year. Our occupancy is well above 95 per cent. We are the only third-stage housing organization in Canada. Nobody else offers third stage. Second stage has 22 units. Each unit is alarmed with its own alarm system. We have a no-male policy on those properties, which means if you have a dating situation or a male relative or an adult male child, they are not allowed on the property because we have found in the past that the boyfriend of the woman in Unit A is the ex-abuser of the woman in Unit D. So, in order to alleviate all those problems, and the women appreciate that, we just ask that no males be on the property. Everyone has the right to open up their door and not hear an argument between a man and a woman or to see a stranger on the property if they're in recovery from domestic abuse. It's as simple as that. For the most part it's followed.
Third stage is a little more of a familiar relationship between tenancy and landlord, where the units are not alarmed and there are male visitors allowed. They can stay in those units up to four years. The occupants of those units now are all in post-secondary education, and they're young mothers. So we're supporting them as they go to school.
I guess one of the biggest things I'd like to talk about is the kids with Alice Housing. We have a tremendous gap in service, not only with Alice Housing but in Halifax Regional Municipality. We do not have the capacity to deal with these children in crisis, and believe me, they're in crisis. We have four-year-old boys calling their mothers fucking bitches and spitting on them, and we have 15-year-old boys who are being suspended from high school and junior high school on a regular basis.
There's a 19-month waiting list for mental health services with the IWK. Bryony House does not have the capacity to deal with these children. The women don't have the capacity to pay for private counselling for their children, so these kids are being lost. I think the best way to give you an example of what will happen when these kids are lost is we currently have a woman living with us now who in June we could not serve, because we couldn't protect her, nor could Bryony House, nor could Third Place in Truro.
So she was actually sent out of the province, because she was at an extraordinary high risk for lethality. She was at an extraordinary high risk for lethality because her abuser was a child who had spent time in Bryony House as a child with his mother. He knew where Bryony House was, he knew their security system. He would stand on their steps, and he would antagonize the workers who were there. He wanted to get to this woman, and he would have done it either through Bryony House, through Third Place or through us. So we basically had to encourage her to leave the province.
She's back now. He got out of jail last month. He pleaded down from 30 charges to 15, and spent a couple of months in jail. She's a professional woman with a nursing background. She has lost her job because of this, has lost her home, and she and her 15-year-old son are now basically in hiding.
We talk about this when we work with Bryony House. We talk about if the opportunities had been there for these kids when they were growing up in domestic abuse, because it is a cycle - not every abuser has grown up in this, but certainly we see our fair share - that perhaps there might have been a change in this man's life. He's well known to police. He has very little respect for authority. He has no respect for her. So it's a situation that, basically, is explosive.
At Alice Housing we have an alarm system, like I said, for every unit, and we also have staff who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the alarm goes off, and our alarm company calls, and the woman doesn't give her safe word or there's no answer, the police are summoned right away and are there generally in under two to three minutes because they know our properties and they know what the risks are.
We're seeing children now - like I said, we have 23 children right now, ranging in age from two to 16 - the issues that these kids are facing, they're tremendously angry. We have mothers who are in crisis who feel tremendous guilt from yanking their children from their home, from their fathers, from their schools, from their friends, from their toys. By the time these kids get to us, they're often in a third school in about six weeks, because they leave their school, they go to Bryony House, they go to the school associated there, and then they come to us. So their lives are in upheaval, and they've had to start all over again. When you're little and you've seen Daddy reacting or calling Mom names or spitting on her or pulling her hair or slapping her face, that's how you're going to interact with your mom because that's what you've seen.
We are in dire need of someone to deal with this under the auspices of Alice Housing. I currently have a grant within the Community Justice Program to hire somebody on a part-time basis for a year. I'm just waiting to hear whether or not that's going to go through. I'm hopeful, but I never know until Cecil Wright calls me up and says, you've got the money for a year.
It's very frustrating to see these kids grow up, because we can empower these young women who are there to try to not take the abuse they've seen their mothers take, but working with the boys - and the majority of our kids right now are boys, we have very few girls - it's very difficult to work with them unless it's consistent and we're doing it with staff who know how to reach them. We have one counsellor on staff. Her expertise is not in children, it's in family counselling with women. So that's a real gap in service that we have.
Hopefully within the next year that will be looked at, and then we can have some outcomes and go for funding. It's a continual thing, because we know that the kids who have gone to Bryony House in the 1970s and 1980s are now back there as mothers in the 1990s and 2000s. I used to co-chair Bryony House, so I know this is a fact. It's a cycle, and unless you reach these kids younger, these girls are going to grow up thinking it's okay to be abused, and these boys are going to grow up thinking that's the way to get what I want. It's
very unfortunate, and it's hard to watch because you feel helpless. It's very difficult on the mothers, because they just feel so overwhelmed. They don't know what to do. It's an ongoing issue.
One of the other ongoing issues with Alice Housing is finances. We receive $45,654 from the Department of Community Services, and that has not changed since 1997. Our capacity to serve has grown incredibly since then. Last year, our calls for service have gone up 22 per cent. For instance, this year, we've already taken 53 intakes, which means we've taken 53 intakes but we certainly haven't accepted 53 people because we simply don't have a place for them to go. We've had 1,011 service requests, just from April 1st. So those are people in the community, women wondering where they can go, our own tenants, past tenants. We serve women who have left Alice Housing or women who have not lived with us but still need the ongoing support of somebody to talk to while they try to work out their housing issues.
We have a drop-in centre which houses our food bank, our donations area, we have a family resource library where moms can come and sit down and take age-appropriate books, everything from I Love My Daddy But He's In Jail, to When I Get Angry, My Head Blows Off. We get about 104 visits a month from women who come and take part in the services that are at the drop-in centre. We average about 62 counselling sessions per month. We have a staff of four. My background is not counselling, even though I can do crisis intervention. I have one family counsellor who is a registered social worker. I have a housing coordinator who manages the 25 units, which is a tremendously large job. And I have a drop-in centre coordinator who basically does everything else. So we certainly are stretched to the limit in our capacity to serve these women.
For Christmas, without Alice Housing many of these women would have nothing. We have sponsored 70 people. So 70 women and children are completely sponsored for Christmas. We have programs within Alice Housing. Each woman, when she signs the lease to come to Alice Housing, has to know that it's more than just bricks and mortar that we're providing. It's programs, because you're there for a reason. We expect you to either attend our programs or to attend some sort of support group in the community. Our programs cover everything from problem gambling to healthy eating for children, self-esteem, budgeting, how to end the cycle of abuse, how to have healthy relationships. We expect women to attend these, and for the most part they do because they realize they need the extra help, otherwise they wouldn't be living at Alice Housing.
We offer two retreats in the summertime, where we actually pay to have everyone picked up by a bus and we take them either to Malagash or to Lake Echo, through the help of two other community agencies. We have a three-day camping excursion for these kids, because otherwise they don't get to participate in things that are above and beyond what their
moms can pay in the summertime. We try to do children's programming, in terms of when we have the capacity to have someone from Mount Saint Vincent come out and do some workshops with the kids or some healthy eating tips with the kids. There's no hardcore counselling going on with these children. It's basically a cooking class for a night or a drawing class, things that are more fun and recreational, more than therapeutic.
The one thing that really hits my budget is housing costs. We haven't increased our capacity for staff in about the last three years, but the housing costs really hit my bottom line. We've had to dig into our reserve over the last couple of years, including this year, because we've been running in a deficit situation. We received money three years ago to buy two new properties, and it's the same old story, with the money that comes federally, yes, they drop lots of money in HRM or in Nova Scotia and then they leave town, and it's left to the province to deal with the sustainability issue. I know because I live that, because I was the developer for the Marguerite Centre. I spent three years fighting that.
My argument to that is, the Marguerite Centre is full, they have a wait list. Alice Housing is full, we have a wait list. The services are there, they're not empty, they are not not being utilized. There was a need, there was a gap, it was filled. People who are in my position in the community don't care where the money comes from. The need is there, people either die or they stay in homes where they're living in horrific abuse or they're on the streets because of addictions. To me, it doesn't matter where it comes from. You build it, they will come. You do the service, you try to find the money.
This is the situation Alice Housing finds itself in now. We get the bulk of our money from rents, and we rent far below the market value because you cannot find a four-bedroom duplex in Dartmouth with heat and electricity included for less than $600, which is what we charge. So we are at far below the market value, and any extra in heating costs, snow clearing, security, staffing, anything else that costs Alice Housing money does not get passed on to the client because they just do not have the capability to pay. So we absorb it.
For the past number of years, we've been in a deficit situation, where we've had to take money from our reserve. Our reserve now is at the lowest it can possibly be, based on an agreement with the Department of Community Services housing division we have to have $20,000 in a reserve because if the roof blows off on Ochterloney Street, I have to replace it. It's not going to be replaced by any shelter enhancement through the Department of Community Services. So we have to have a reserve.
We've depleted it down to that level. It's uncomfortable, but in order to continue operating, that's what we've had to do. I am currently in negotiations with the Department of Community Services. They have visited Alice Housing and grilled me for two hours on where we spend our money and what we do, and I have absolutely no problem with that. I've met with Minister Morse and told him quite frankly that if you don't step up, we're going to start selling buildings. That's where it stands. It's not an idle threat. We're a business. We're
not-for-profit but we're also a business, and you cannot operate in the red each year. It's just not responsible, and the board of directors will not allow that.
That's where we're at right now. We have about a $369,000 budget, $120,000 of which comes through rents. I have no capacity to raise that. I get $26,000 from the United Way, which has been cut from $65,000 over the last few years, because they've had more programs applying for money through their pot and that doesn't grow substantially each year, and the rest is fundraise. I don't have a fundraiser, I spend more of my time chasing money than I do working on programs, so you do the math. It's a lot of work doing grants and trying to find people to do events for you.
I can walk into a room of 200 people and ask them, how many people know what Alice Housing is and maybe - maybe - four or five will raise their hand. We're not part of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, so we're left out of a lot of important decision making when it comes to women in abuse. We're not part of THANS because we're not a transition house. The other second-stage organizations have chosen to become part of THANS and, quite frankly, their voices are lost in the transition house movement.
Second stage is unique, they have unique needs. We deal longer with the clients, we offer different services than a transition house. Out of all of second stage in Nova Scotia, all of their units combined are still less than what Alice Housing has. We have the largest capacity in the province, so, quite frankly, our needs are great, our services are unique, we deal in life and death. We deal with situations that not only put women at risk but put my staff at risk on a daily basis, and we're in a situation where somebody has to step up or hard decisions have to be made and those decisions are not going to be popular.
I'm not looking to expand, I'm looking to maintain. It's bad enough we're turning away families and telling Bryony House, don't refer anyone here and do not give false hope to families that are currently at Bryony House now that they are going to get units with us, because they're not. Our turnover is very low, two years and then people leave, but most of our tenants are only into a year of their lease. So unless you're a single woman, Alice Housing is not the answer for you right now, and that's very difficult on the Bryony House staff and it's very difficult on our staff, because we know these women are either going back or they're in unsafe housing.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Joanne, I'm going to stop you there just because some members have indicated that they have questions on some of the issues that you've raised. I just want to clarify something, Alice Housing, although it's located in Dartmouth, it does accept women from elsewhere in Nova Scotia.
MS. BERNARD: We've actually accepted women from the Port Hawkesbury transition house, from Truro, from the Valley, only because the situations were so high risk that moving out of those communities was in the best interests of the families.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Alice Housing is the largest second stage in Nova Scotia.
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: And the only third stage in Canada.
MS. BERNARD: Yes, and I just would like to add - and then I'll be quiet - last year the organization - and, Marilyn, you know this - won the Donner Foundation Award which is a national service delivery recognition program. It was the only organization in Nova Scotia to win that award out of 236 organizations across the country. We won in the Excellence in the Provision of Basic Necessities, it was a big deal, I wish we had made more of it, but we do what we can this year. It was a real recognition of the success that we have in our outcomes: 91 per cent of the women who leave Alice Housing do not go back to their abusers, that's a tremendously high success rate and we're proud of that; at least we're doing something right.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: So it recognized not only your results but also the best practices you use in your organization.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
MR. MARK PARENT: Thank you very much for your presentation. Just a few quick questions. The United Way cut from $65,000 to $25,000, they did that with another organization that was here before with us. I'm just surprised that they've done it again because there was a bit of an outcry about it at that stage. What justification do they give for doing that? Is there money, like the federal seed money, that's supposed to disappear after five years, or what?
MS. BERNARD: That's a good question and I think you would have to ask them what their allocation equation is. They don't recognize third stage as a program that they wish to fund, so that is completely out of any funding application I put in to the United Way, something about it's because it's four years, it doesn't get the greatest bang for their buck, that's how they look at it.
I actually have a funding panel meeting with them on Monday and I've asked for three years with substantial increases where the last year, I think, gives me $50,000, trying to get back to levels that we've previously had. I know that they've had more programs and more organizations apply to them for funding, and when you look at the United Way, their costs have gone up and there just isn't the money there to cover it, the pie is the same size
but there have to be more pieces coming out of it. So that is, I think, one of the reasons why . . .
MR. PARENT: So they clearly don't have a policy of continuing the funding for existing organizations, they just divide it by the number that apply.
MS. BERNARD: No, absolutely not. You know, we're a small shop and if I could be like Bryony House, or a health charity, or Adsum House - none of whom are part of the United Way - I would wean myself off the United Way, because in many cases it stops you from doing fundraising with large corporations in this area. For instance, if I were to put in a grant application for $40,000 for a program with Aliant, it would go in a different pile because we are part of the United Way. So if I could wean myself off, I would, but now it's just not possible.
MS. ALISON MACDONALD: I also know that Joanne spends a lot of time justifying that reduced amount with United Way.
MR. PARENT: What amount of federal funding do you get?
MS. BERNARD: We receive no federal funding now. Any federal funding we got in the past was for the purchase of properties. SCPI money does not incorporate operational funding. Operational funding was available while you were buying this, so my housing coordinator, who was actually charged with finding a place to buy and to make sure the renovations were done, a portion of her salary was paid through SCPI funding, but there's no sustainability there. SCPI has stopped, the well has run dry for Alice Housing.
MR. PARENT: Do they realize that sustainability is a problem?
MS. BERNARD: Sustainability has been a problem with that program since it was instituted in 1999.
MR. PARENT: But there have been no changes to help address that issue?
MS. BERNARD: No, and it has been brought up by many groups. I mentioned the Marguerite Centre, Metro Non-Profit, any group that has received any amount of funding to be able to expand their services, because of the need, has quickly realized that sustainability is going to be an issue.
MR. PARENT: You mentioned that the $45,000 from Community Services has been frozen for well over a decade. Is there extra money that comes in, is there shelter enhancement of $96,000?
MS. BERNARD: We will only do renovations to our buildings if we know shelter enhancement has been approved. So we don't go out and put a new roof on a building and then apply for shelter enhancement, so we've been able to do that. Renovations, we've been very blessed with the Shelter Enhancement Program, that does not cover operational and it doesn't cover the day-to-day maintenance of these buildings either. When a unit needs to be painted, it's going to cost me money; when a toilet is plugged up, it costs me money; all my appliances, every other thing you could think of that goes under maintaining 25 units. Only major renovations are paid for through shelter enhancement.
MR. PARENT: But that piece is working well.
MS. BERNARD: That piece is working extraordinarily well, I've no complaints there.
MR. PARENT: I was going to ask about the third-stage housing but you answered that for me. Thank you, I may come back with more questions, but I was interested in filling in the excellent financial data which you did give.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Ms. Whalen.
MS. DIANA WHALEN: There's so much to look at, really. I really appreciated seeing the video first because I wasn't able to get to your fundraiser this year where it was shown, but I think it certainly did speak loudly as to the sort of conditions and background, and what women have to overcome, and I think that is important.
I have so many different areas that I'd like to ask you about but the mental health question is very large, not only for the children but for women as well. Often, housing is a key to helping people who have mental illness, addictions, or problems. You mentioned that children have to wait 19 months, or that's what the waiting list is now for help through the IWK. Are you getting adequate help for the mothers? You have your own counsellor, but . . .
MS. BERNARD: Yes. Actually I'm glad you mentioned that, because I'm a very big advocate of partnering with other community agencies and with government. I will ferret out whatever's free and available to the best of my ability. We actually are working with Mental Health within the Capital District. They have some sort of new community program where they will send a mental health nurse into your facility to do programs. She met with our women on November 24th, and together they decided what programs, for the new year, the women wanted. Number one was stress and anxiety and depression, how to deal with those three things. So she's going to be coming in and implementing those programs at no cost to us. That has been wonderful.
We're able to utilize organizations like Family SOS. They're good for some of the issues that we have, but they are really deep-seated issues that they're not capable of addressing either. We really need mental health professionals geared towards crisis intervention with children.
MS. WHALEN: It's not perfect, but there are some programs you've found for the women that help.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely, for the women.
MS. WHALEN: On the side of the children, would it be possible that Capital Health could do something similar, where they might have a program geared to children in crisis?
MS. BERNARD: That would be wonderful, but they don't.
MS. WHALEN: Have you suggested it to them?
MS. BERNARD: I think myself and every other agency that deals with kids in crisis have suggested it to them. Mental health services, as I'm sure you probably know, are horrifically underfunded, and the wait list for anybody is incredible. The gaps for children are just as significant. That's just the way it is.
MS. WHALEN: Your story about children growing up in abusive relationships and men becoming abusers themselves is, I think, ample evidence that there is a cycle and that you need to break it. That seems really important.
On the finances, I just want to have a look at that for a minute. You said you have no capacity to increase the rents. I'm wondering, are the women, by and large, on social assistance, and is that what's capping your shelter allowance?
MS. BERNARD: I would say probably 90 per cent of the women are on social assistance, and the ones who do work, we have to subsidize their rents because they can't afford - and we do get a subsidization through CMHC. We have $1,100 a month that we can play with to subsidize women who are working. So if they're in an apartment that rents for $535, we generally can subsidize down to $300. That means they pay $300, we pay the rest through that subsidization that we receive. They have affordable housing. We can't pass any costs on to the women, they just don't have the capacity to pay.
MS. WHALEN: That would be your largest income line, so it looks like if there was another option, I'm sure you'd look at it.
MS. BERNARD: I'd love to raise rents, but what would be the point. I'm not going to get it.
MS. WHALEN: I do understand. If I understood correctly what you were saying to Mark, that if you could get off the United Way completely you would perhaps have more funding opportunities?
MS. BERNARD: I think I would have more funding opportunities, and that's why places like Phoenix House and Bryony House and Adsum House, which all have full fundraisers, aren't part of the United Way, because they know that they can access more corporate and foundation support by not being part of the United Way.
MS. WHALEN: That's sort of an unfortunate catch.
MS. BERNARD: It's a Catch-22.
MS. WHALEN: That does seem that way. I'm going to just wait a bit and come back, if I could.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Jerry Pye.
MR. JERRY PYE: I don't know where to begin, Joanne. I do want to say to you that I happen to have been sitting on the Community Services Committee for some eight years, as a matter of fact, when the Marguerite Centre was a dream of people and the presentation to this standing committee for support of the Marguerite Centre, an addiction facility for women, was single and most important. I know that I've been criticized for some of my comments afterwards about this, but I'm going to say it again.
MS. BERNARD: Don't hold that against me, Jerry.
MR. PYE: I'm going to say it again. The concern that I have, Joanne, is that we receive federal funding, and the federal funding allows us to build a physical structure that accommodates the needs of persons. Then the federal government walks away, leaving the provinces, and some provinces do not have the financial resources to provide all the dollars for the social entity, and, as you have said earlier, it's not your concern, your concern is to provide the facilities for the individuals in need and you need to find those dollars somewhere.
The unfortunate part of the situation, as I see it, is that there needs to be an addressing, at the federal level, that makes a commitment to social policy, to the provincial governments, of where those dollars are going to go, and in fact they're going to not only provide the dollars for capital but they're going to provide dollars for operating, as well. As you know, just this year, Metro Non-Profit Housing Association sold a number of its units because it no longer could afford, and it came through federal funding dollars.
To me, that in itself is extremely disastrous. You provide a service to people who are eventually going to lose, not only the shelter but the programs and services that follow them, and are no longer with those individuals. It creates a very precarious situation for people to be in, particularly people in violent situations, because once you start closing the door, then the individual who has created the violence knows there is nowhere else for them to go and they come back home, and the cycle is repeated again and again. Now they know that there's no place for them to go, and it happens.
I'm very pleased to see that you're in negotiations with the Department of Community Services. I would hope that you would be talking to the federal government with respect to developing a policy or a plan. Particularly since the election is on, it would be a great time to talk to those MPs on your doorstep with respect to where the government is going with increased funding towards social housing development.
I don't know if you've looked at this. I know that housing costs have escalated, and a lot of that would be around energy, fuel, heating costs and so on. I don't know if you have tapped into any of the energy programs that might make your facilities energy efficient or not, or if you have looked to see if in fact Alice Housing is one of those recipients that could tap into that program.
The other thing that I find alarming is that your requests have gone up some 22 per cent. I don't know what the demographics of that are with respect to the people who are making the requests, but I would say that it's probably the working class citizen and people with less than a Grade 12 education who find it difficult to get jobs, and that frustration creates an environment in the family. They end up coming to you. So I can see a reason why you would have had 1,111 requests from April until now. I want to tell you that those figures are striking in themselves. After my ramble, you might be able to tell me just exactly what's going on.
I want to tap into MLA Whalen's issue around mental health. Many of the children, you said there are 23 children from the ages of two to 16, and yet you made reference to an application for a grant from the Justice Department, through Cecil Wright. I'm just wondering, what are you taking away from a mental health issue that you need a grant from Justice? Or is there another avenue? I think the single most important issue here is around the mental health of children who have found themselves in an abusive relationship, and the services not being provided for them. I don't know, if you did the appropriate mental health issue, would you need funding from Justice? I think that comes as a result of an absence of mental health being addressed. Maybe you could respond to that.
I'm going to say your third-stage housing only allows you up to four years to live there, and then individuals who in fact have graduated and found employment opportunities have to move on. They move on, hopefully, to affordable housing positions and so on. When you see the cycle of cutting by government to the shelter components all the way along, when
shelter costs are increasing, it becomes an extremely difficult situation. I'm wondering, do you communicate with non-profit housing or public housing or other housing entities to see what kinds of programs and services they have available for people who move on from third-stage housing? I guess I better stop there, Madam Chairman.
MS. BERNARD: I'm going to answer your questions here. The thing about the demographic of the abuser, you're right, we do have a significant number of women and abusers who come from low-income, low-education backgrounds, but we also have an abuser who teaches at an Ivy League university in the States, so it does cut across a swath. I think it's really important to recognize that, I don't want to stigmatize one area of the population more so than the other because it does cut across a lot of socio-economic factors.
With the Community Mobilization Program, one of the aims of that program is to stop violence and be preventive in measure. The mental health component of my grant, in which they have tacitly endorsed and encouraged, is that children need mental health services when they witness domestic abuse, so that they don't grow up to repeat that cycle, that is their stand. If I could find funding from a mental health foundation or another program, I'd make the same application.
In terms of - I'm trying to think of your last thing because that's the one I really wanted to talk about . . .
MR. PYE: The consultation with housing divisions.
MS. BERNARD: Yes. We work, I'd say, probably weekly, with representatives from Metro Non-Profit, the Housing Authority and from any other subsidized housing units, seniors' homes, to make sure that when women leave when their tenancy is up with them, that they are not just put out into the street and put into a situation where even though they may have the tools to make right choices in terms of relationships, their life status at that time is they can't find affordable housing for their children. So we work with other agencies quite closely, that is what our housing coordinator does. We are the liaison so that when women leave Alice Housing, we know they're going into a situation that is (a) affordable, and (b) relatively safe.
Just because you're on social assistance, and a single mom for years, that doesn't mean that when you're at the end of four years with Alice Housing - or six years which is what some of these women will be - that when you go out that you won't be able to find adequate housing that may not be affordable.
I was a single mother on social assistance the whole time I went to university, so when I see them sitting across my desk and they're telling me that education is not going to work for them I can say, you know what, it will, because I'm proof of that. Many of these women, their goal is to get off the system, is to move one step away from one pink slip, one
bad relationship, away from community services, to get beyond that, to have not only affordable housing for their incomes but to make a life where they never have to rely on social assistance again, and that is the goal of many of them.
MR. PYE: My final question is, when I was watching the video I noticed one of the women - I believe her name was Kristy - had indicated she was on a bus from Wyoming to Alberta and it was a 16-hour ride. Now she happens to be in a facility in Nova Scotia and I'm wondering, do you take persons from out of province into facilities in Nova Scotia, or how did Kristy become a client of Alice Housing in Nova Scotia?
MS. BERNARD: She actually is from Alberta, but the father of three of her children is here in the HRM, and she has been in the HRM for the last 10 years. She has found herself in two situations, one in Alberta via Wyoming because of the way that relationship played out, and then the one here, she has been here for 10 years. So no, we don't accept transfers from Alberta, we just can't.
MR. PYE: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. McNeil.
MR. STEPHEN MCNEIL: Thank you for your presentation. How many second-stage facilities are there around the province?
MS. BERNARD: That's a good question, I should know that off the top of my head. I believe there are, I'm going to say five, and their units all told are 22 or 23. There is Naomi Society and I think there is Tearmann House and some associated with Cape Breton Transition House, maybe a few in Amherst and that's about it.
MR. MCNEIL: When you were describing the difference between your second stage and third stage, you mentioned the second stage was fully secured, no males. What's the difference between your second stage and the transition facilities that are around the province, is it the length of time?
MS. BERNARD: A transition house?
MR. MCNEIL: Yes.
MS. BERNARD: A transition house is an emergency shelter for six weeks.
MR. MCNEIL: What is the average stay, does everyone stay up to the two years?
MS. BERNARD: Until the day their lease is up.
MR. MCNEIL: You currently have 24 women and 23 children. How many of those are at the second-stage level or at the third-stage level? How does that break down?
MS. BERNARD: The third stage is three units, that's full, so it would be 21 in second stage right now with one vacancy and three women on a wait list to fill that vacancy. That is based on an intake process and an assessment of basically who is at greatest risk.
MR. MCNEIL: I assume your third stage is when somebody gets an opportunity to be there they are staying for the full four years.
MS. BERNARD: Yes, absolutely.
MR. MCNEIL: And are all of the women who are in third stage right now attending post-secondary education?
MS. BERNARD: Two are, the third one has mental health issues and we chose to continue her tenancy. We chose four years because with the tenancy Act, five years gives you tenure and we always wanted to make sure that the opportunity for women coming out of second stage, there would be third stage for them at some point.
MR. MCNEIL: The women who are presently attending post-secondary education, are they still receiving support from Community Services?
MS. BERNARD: One is not because she's in university and you don't qualify for Community Services when you're in university. The other ones are in community college.
MR. MCNEIL: What percentage of your time is spent on raising money?
MS. BERNARD: Probably 75 per cent to 80 per cent.
MS. ALISON MACDONALD: I'm the chair of the fundraising committee, so we work quite closely on some of those issues and as Joanne said, we don't have anyone on staff dedicated to fundraising, so that is where Joanne spends a lot of her time.
MS. BERNARD: I was able to secure a grant through HRDC to hire someone to organize the yard auction, so I'm now in the process of trying to get my second grant from the job creation partnership to help us with two programs that need to be utilized. We just don't have the time to utilize them right now, so we want someone to come in and make sure that they're implemented.
MR. MCNEIL: I'll use the United Way, as it's one of your biggest funding partners, what's their reaction when they find out the province has basically frozen your funding from 1997 until now?
MS. BERNARD: They know, it hasn't changed in 10 years and we've had a long-standing relationship with the United Way. I'd let you know Tuesday morning because my funding panel is Monday night, but they know.
MR. MCNEIL: But what is their reaction? I guess what I'm saying is if they're viewing that the province doesn't see this as a crisis situation or a huge need in terms of funding it, do they say to you why should we?
MS. BERNARD: No, I haven't gotten that and I'm not sure the province thinks that. I'm not sure why the province hasn't stepped up to the plate in the past couple of years, because they know it's a need, we're not sitting empty, we're either changing lives or saving lives, so it's . . .
MR. MCNEIL: So it would be a case maybe of just not a priority. We talked a little bit about the federal government's amount of money coming in. Well, the social transfer to the province has gone up, so . . .
MS. BERNARD: You tell me.
MR. MCNEIL: That's what I'm wondering.
MS. BERNARD: You're part of the government, you tell me, I have no idea. I can't speak for why decisions are made regarding social policy and the distribution of direct grants to the Department of Community Services. I'm not going to tell you that I think it might be the value that the province puts on the lives of women and children, I don't know. I don't know why women's organizations have to march through the streets for funding. I don't know why transition houses got cut three or four years ago. I don't know why 80 per cent of my time is spent trying to find money just to keep these units open so that women and kids aren't out on the street or back in abusive situations, I can't answer that question.
MR. MCNEIL: Have you received any additional funding over the last number of years to cover your deficit that you've had, or does all of that come out of your reserve?
MS. BERNARD: All of it has come out of the reserve.
MR. MCNEIL: Your reserve is presently at $20,000.
MS. BERNARD: Capped.
MR. MCNEIL: Where was it when you started dipping into it?
MS. BERNARD: I'd say probably closer to $50,000 over the last couple of years.
MR. MCNEIL: I'll just close off by saying, I've been elected since the last election and this is the most challenging and difficult issue that I've had to deal with as an MLA, when it comes to domestic violence, children and women just feeling there's nowhere to go. I'm sitting across the desk trying to provide answers, and I'm telling you . . .
MS. BERNARD: You don't have them either.
MR. MCNEIL: You can't. You want to be able to provide them with some safety. It's extremely difficult when you feel you can't do it.
MS. BERNARD: Since 1990, 74 women and two female children have been murdered in this province - intimate partner relationships. When Lori Lee Maxwell and that whole thing happened in Truro, that was a real catalyst for domestic abuse in this province. The framework was established, and a real process was put in place for pro-charging and pro-prosecution of domestic abuse charges. There definitely have been strides in terms of the process, but THANS and Alice Housing will tell you the process has improved or made strides to improve, but certainly not the capacity to maintain a level of service through funding. Now I know THANS has a powerful provincial voice, which we're not part of, and they have made strides in the past couple of years.
I was co-chair of Bryony House when those cuts came down to the transition houses a couple of years ago. I remember printing off layoff notices for the last month before our fiscal year end. I remember physically going home and being sick, thinking if somebody dies this month, as co-chair, I have that responsibility. As an executive director of this organization, I don't want to have to close a building and think if one of my clients goes back to that situation and something happens - I don't want to live with that. Quite frankly, I don't think anybody in this room should.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hines.
MR. GARY HINES: Thank you for coming in. Ms. Bernard, it's quite evident that you have a heavy load to carry because you have so many different aspects of what you do. I'd like to just ask questions, and I guess both of you can wade in on it; I'm not trying to put anybody on the spot with the questions. Your board, what is the makeup, how is the board chosen, and I guess, if you wish, how can your board maybe do things differently that would help you with your fundraising so that you have more time to allocate to the other things that you do?
MS. BERNARD: Do you want to answer that?
MS. ALISON MACDONALD: You can start.
MS. BERNARD: The board, right now, has a component of seven. We're in the middle of recruitment for the board. We have to identify the gaps in services. A professional fundraiser is one of the biggest gaps that we have. What I would love is for a professional fundraiser to give us volunteer time and go out and solicit third-party fundraisers so that I don't have to spend a lot of my time doing it, but the Progress Club takes us on. But that's just not happening.
Right now our component is seven. We're co-chaired by Penny Harding, who is a lawyer at Aliant, and Elizabeth Chard, who is a former registrar at Saint Mary's. Alison is a public relations specialist, and we have Catherine Penney, with the WCB, as our treasurer. We have a social work student, another Aliant employee, and Catherine Love who is the former executive director of Bryony House. We have two applications that are currently out there, for gaps in the board, of women who are looking to come on board. It's a heavy-duty responsibility volunteer load, and you have to be committed to it.
MS. ALISON MACDONALD: We're a very hands-on board. It's not just sort of at the decision-making level. Obviously as fundraising chairperson, I'm not just making decisions, I'm actually being very involved in, okay, we need a fundraising plan for the organization, let's go away and put that plan together. I'm a public relations professional, so there's a little aspect of what I do that can help with fundraising, but I am not a fundraising expert. Until just a few months ago, when I volunteered to become fundraising chair, we did not have a fundraising chairperson for the organization.
Beyond the board, for example, we're trying to develop fundraising committees so that we do have more arms and legs underneath to help with some of these endeavours that we have. Part of the problem is it's not just fundraising, but it's raising the profile of Alice Housing within the community, so that when we do go out and do our fundraising, people have some frame of reference for what Alice Housing is, so that they understand what Alice Housing is and will be more willing or more apt to give to Alice Housing.
MR. HINES: Have you ever looked at having male inclusion on your board? I've been involved with a couple of fundraisers, in particular the Nova Scotia Home Builders' Association that got involved with Beacon House. They do a one-time fundraiser that brings them in $100,000 a year. I just wondered if you have looked at having male inclusion on your board, because sometimes those positions can . . .
MS. BERNARD: It's a feminist-working board, but we would welcome male inclusion on committees. We operate, fundamentally and philosophically on the board level, from a feminist perspective. We do have volunteers who are male, who work mostly in the fundraising areas, who we know we can call and they'll sell a table for one of our events. It's not an issue.
MR. HINES: Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Mr. Gordon Gosse.
MR. GORDON GOSSE: Thank you for your video presentation earlier. Actually it was the second time I saw it. I noticed Kristy because I watch Global News occasionally, and I saw her in the firefighter challenge, actually, on TV. She was sitting in front of us at your auction, and I was sitting with my colleagues, Maureen and Marilyn. It was a nice evening, and I hope it was successful.
Some of the issues you're bringing up today I'm very familiar with as an executive director/funding coordinator myself. I noticed on your board you have an executive director, and I think you should change the name to funding and marketing coordinator because a lot of non-profit organizations today are in the same boat that you're in. They have to have funding committees within their board, and now they're restructuring and doing board development to access that funding. You're an organization that lives from grant to grant, and I'm quite familiar with that. I've been quite good at it myself for 10 years, in that non-profit organization sector, as an executive director, and I know the challenges you face with government.
It was interesting, in your comment earlier, Joanne, when you had said you were almost grilled by the department for two hours. I do know what that's like, to have the department come in and look for reasons why they're not going to give you the funding, not to work with you as an executive director to support you and your organization and what you're trying to do and the services you're trying to provide, but to come in and grill you and look for every little loophole so that you do not fit into their criteria. I've been through that, and I know many organizations have. They come in and go through this, and you meet with the director of this department, you meet with the coordinator of the department, and you meet with the field personnel, and they come in and they grill these non-profit organizations. You feel like you're being belittled yourself. I know what that's like.
MS. BERNARD: It's very punitive.
MR. GOSSE: Absolutely. You said the Community Mobilization Program - I'm quite familiar with that, HRDC grants. Yourself as executive director, you become pretty good as a proposal writer, because that's all you're doing. It takes a lot away from your job - myself as a youth counsellor, yourself providing those services, because 90 per cent of your time you're stuck doing paperwork and you're kissing butt to look for money. It doesn't matter what organization - I've been to the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. You buy all those books, you do all that fundraising. All these non-profit organizations in Nova Scotia are going through the same thing. I'm the only MLA sitting around the table here today from Cape Breton, and I'm familiar with transition houses and other organizations within the Cape Breton community, where I represent, that go through the same thing.
I know what you're going through. It's over and over again, two Community Services Ministers, the same thing. I don't know how many times you've met with them over the years. They know the services you're providing, top-notch services within this province, within Atlantic Canada and Canada, which you've received awards for. But you have to keep proving yourself. Why do you have to keep proving yourself over and over again as the years go by with the services? How many times do you have to go and say, look, we have a 19-month waiting period to have young people who need severe help and counselling for mental disorders, 19 months?
If they're in Alice Housing for two years, they have three, four months of counselling by the time they get in. So their behaviour has severely changed in that time, because they're not getting any services. These are some of the things that socialists - myself, I've been through it for many years, like all non-profits. You had made a comment, build it and they will come, I don't know if that's true or not. I've been in a situation where they built a Boys and Girls Club and spent $850,000, and nobody showed up. So, really, it became a white elephant. I look at that aspect of it, because that's my background.
Is there any co-operation between your organization and, say, the Boys and Girls Clubs in Dartmouth? Are there any youth centres in Dartmouth, are there any youth programs in Dartmouth?
MS. BERNARD: We work very closely with the Boys and Girls Club. A couple of our clients, actually, their children do the after-school programs. We also work very closely with the Dartmouth Family Resource Centre. We're in partnership with them in providing child care during our programs. We do partner with other organizations.
I appreciate what you said about being an executive director. I've only been on this job since March 1st, and the board made a very strategic decision when they hired somebody without a social work degree. I have a master's degree in political science. I love doing stuff like this, I love putting the name out there, I love lobbying, that's what I like to do. They made a strategic decision to make sure that whoever came on board was a manager and could organize and coordinate funding. I don't have a counselling course, to save my life, so I think it was strategic on the board's part because they saw this as the direction that this organization needed to go in. Even though I spend 80 per cent of my time doing that, I can also do program development as well, I am trained in that.
I appreciate your comments. There are very many different hats that executive directors, even with social work degrees, have to wear. Bryony House just hired their fundraiser back in 2003, because I hired her. They went years without one. I have so many other gaps to fill before I even look at hiring somebody for revenue development; it's so far down on my priority list that it's barely legible. The task is set to volunteers and myself.
MR. GOSSE: May I continue, just for a short second? One quick one. The United Way funding, I do know you're handcuffed in the span between September, October, November to December 1st, because that's when they do their corporate campaign, and you can't approach anybody campaigning. You get such a small little bit of funding from the United Way for that, so you're handcuffed, you're into that because that little bit of funding means so much to the organization, because you're not receiving the proper amount of funding for the services you provide from the government. I do understand being handcuffed in that and not being able to get out.
Executive director, funding and marketing coordinator, proposal writer, you do wear many hats in non-profit organizations. That's just the way it has been in a lot of non-profit organizations within Nova Scotia for the past eight or 10 years that I've been involved in the non-profit sector. I don't know, becoming part of government, what we have to do to change that, so that we're not being grilled all the time in the non-profit sector and having to prove ourselves over and over again as to why we deserve and why we need the necessary funding to provide such needed services to people in the Province of Nova Scotia. I thank you and your organization for providing those services over the years, for many years, as my colleague, the member for Dartmouth North, had said, and I applaud your organization for that.
MS. BERNARD: I don't want to be trite, but I often say that if I put the word or the letters "Inc." after Alice Housing that I might have access to more government funding.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'm going to ask the vice-chairman to take over so I can ask a few questions.
[10:17 a.m. Mr. Mark Parent took the Chair.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. More.
MS. MARILYN MORE: I just want to say that like my colleague, the member for Cape Breton Nova, I come from the voluntary sector. Even though we've worked in different areas of the sector, so much of what you have said resonates because I've been through it, my organization has been through it. I guess I get frustrated sometimes when we sort of look at the red herrings, like the United Way and the federal government and whatnot because, quite frankly, I think the provincial government has not met its responsibility here in Nova Scotia in terms of support for the voluntary sector.
I want to give a little more detail, and I want to get your reaction to my comments. I guess in the service exchange about 10 years ago, the provincial government undertook the responsibility to be the social safety net for citizens in Nova Scotia. They sort of rationalized the Community Services programs at the provincial level. It just amazes me that your organization is providing probably the best chance of breaking the cycle of violence and
poverty for the women you're able to accept of almost any other program that I know of in this province, and you're able to provide safe, affordable, quality housing with support services. That's as close to an ideal situation for women coming from family violence and poverty that I can think of.
I'm not going to be an apologist for the federal government because, believe me, they could be doing a lot more, but often, from my own experience in the sector, federal funding programs have been a catalyst for action within the community and within different provinces. Then it's up to the community itself and the provincial government to continue those programs. I don't think we'd be any better off if that initial funding hadn't come in to enable groups like yours to buy the housing in the first place, but I really do think that Community Services, especially since so much of the federal affordable housing programs, that money, is being sent to the province to reallocate within the province, I think they have a specific responsibility here to support your organization.
We have to get our heads around the fact that if we don't invest money in intervention and prevention, we're just going to be pouring more and more money down the same hole and looking after the same people. Let's provide those services and funding to actually make a difference in people's lives, so that they can go off the system and get the help they need to be fully independent, I think everyone would benefit from that.
I really get so frustrated, and I just want to echo what Gordie was saying earlier, that governments need to be on their knees to community organizations, thanking them for relieving them of some of the responsibility for their work. When I see government departments actually acting as barriers and challenges to the very organizations that they need to be so grateful to, it just really bothers me because this is unnecessary, they provide unnecessary red tape, unnecessary delay, unnecessary review, when they know a small infusion of additional resources would make a huge difference.
I'm just amazed at what you can do on the budget that you're working with. To think that the Department of Community Services has only given you a little over $45,000 since 1997 is just so discouraging, it really is. I'd be interested in hearing from you what the department is saying to you in terms of not giving you additional funding.
MS. BERNARD: When I put in my application for a direct grant program this year, all I put in for was $20,000 extra. It wasn't even a tremendous increase. The response, when I was told that I never received that, was you're lucky to receive the status quo. That's the attitude.
MS. MORE: That's typical of the arrogance and misunderstanding of department officials that we've heard not just from your organization but from a number of organizations that have appeared before us. I have to say that that mindset is impossible to live with, and something has to be done. I have a special interest in Alice Housing. You're in Dartmouth,
and Jerry and I share the benefits of your work, but also your headquarters are in my constituency. I've taken a special pride in the progressive way that you've approached a very serious concern in our broad community.
I guess the other thing is there was some discussion about what the board of directors could do. I know from my own experience that organizations are having more and more difficulty getting directors to join their boards because of the increasing pressures of fundraising. If someone is interested in women's issues and helping women get ahead and get out of family violence or helping children in crisis, they want to be dealing with that, they don't want to be spending 99 per cent of their discussion time, their thoughts and their actions on fundraising. There has to be a better balance, because we are losing dedicated people in every organization across this province because of the increasing fundraising pressures. That's come out in a number of forums and symposiums that I've been at with representatives from the voluntary sector.
If you can't allow people to work in the area where they have a special interest in a way that they feel they're making progress and making a positive impact on people's lives, they don't want to be there. I guess this is more of a rant than a question, but I'm really frustrated because we're hearing the same story, on different issues, from every organization that comes before us.
Do you have any suggestions on how the relationship between organizations and the department can be improved to the point where you're valued, your concerns are treated in a respectful manner and you get the small amount of additional resources you need to really make an improvement in your services?
MS. BERNARD: If I knew the answer to that, Marilyn, I could bottle it and sell it to every other organization and not have to worry about fundraising. We have a wonderful relationship with the caseworkers and the front-line workers in the Department of Community Services. I did a two-hour presentation the day before yesterday to the Dartmouth office, had 20 caseworkers, all of whom have our clients on their caseload, it was great. How do we work together, how do we better the lives of these women, how do we make sure your needs are being met and my needs are being met and their needs are being met? It was a wonderful meeting.
I sit on different inter-agency committees, and I work closely with other community agencies. Alice Housing is a charter member of a new organization of housing organizations in HRM that is trying to do bulk tendering on things like insurance, director's insurance, fuel, all kinds of things. We're all trying to work together to make sure that we're lowering costs or cutting costs where we can so that we're responsible and accountable. The only people who aren't at the table are the people who write the cheques. So we're working with everybody else, everybody else is on the same page.
I agree with you, what would happen if Alice Housing, all 25 units, were to close tomorrow and those 25 families were on the street and were the responsibility of the Department of Community Services? Boy oh boy, what would happen? I don't even want to think about it.
MS. MORE: They would spend a lot more money than they're investing now.
MS. BERNARD: They'd spend a lot more than $45,000, and they'd spend that probably in a month. I don't know the answer to that. I don't know how to get past the mindset, you're lucky to get the status quo and don't rock the boat. I don't know how to get past the mindset, the director won't meet with you but you can meet with the people underneath him. I don't know. Besides me going down and sitting outside of a door - which I'm quite prepared to do, and it's not like I haven't done it in the past - to get somebody's attention, it's a waste of my time. I find it very degrading to have to do that. I don't know. If I knew the answer to that, I don't think I'd be sitting here right now.
MS. MORE: Thank you. I, for one, really appreciate what you're doing. Please pass that along to your board.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Whalen.
MS. WHALEN: I was interested in the property taxes. I'm wondering, does HRM help you in any way? I was thinking of it in light of the fact that just last year, or quite recently, they did a complete report on homelessness in HRM. I know it isn't a municipal issue, but yet they delved into it because it's an important issue for anyone who lives in HRM.
[10:30 a.m. Ms. Marilyn More resumed the Chair.]
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely. Gloria McCluskey is actually our councillor. We do get a tax break, I think it's 50 per cent we get, like most not-for-profits that own property. I actually received a $10,000 grant from HRM this year to take the built-in garage that we had on our drop-in centre and change it into a program room, so I could cut that cost out of my budget line. Before we were paying outside agencies to house our women to do our programming. Now I've totally alleviated that budget line, and it's a beautiful room. They own it and they love it. It was a good move.
You're right, homelessness, even though it affects HRM, it's not part of anything - they do the studies and we use the stats, which is great. We have their support tacitly, but when it comes to any type of operational funding, they don't have that, it's not part of their realm of responsibility.
MS. WHALEN: Fifty per cent sounds good, but really for the kind of work you're doing, to not have to pay property taxes, I think, would be a big thing. I'm not sure they would agree with me.
MS. BERNARD: And Ochterloney Street is actually under the business occupancy, and we don't get a cut on that. We don't get a break.
MS. WHALEN: So you're paying business occupancy tax, which is being phased out at the moment now, with the new law on that. Those kinds of costs, when you are a volunteer group and in the context of the points that Marilyn made about the benefit to all of society for what you're doing, and your success rate of 91 per cent of the women not returning to abusive relationships is quite phenomenal. I've seen a lot of statistics from, for example, transition houses particularly, where the return rate is frequent, in fact it's the vast majority. It's because the problems are so insurmountable, for women to look at how can we possibly get out of this, that they inevitably return to that situation.
So if you've created a support network and an ability to strengthen women over a period of years so that they can be independent to the tune of 91 per cent, then that's fantastic. We have to look at that and the long-term benefit to everybody. Those women are then going forward and being very productive, having other jobs and being able to stand on their own. I think the benefit is something so important, and I think too often we split things up by whose responsibility it is. The city will say we just do property and we're not interested in people, and that sort of thing, but really I think it's everybody's responsibility to try to support those kinds of efforts. It's not a big amount of money in the scheme of things.
I'm interested in your lobbying efforts, because the fact that you're not part of THANS means that you have to do all your own lobbying efforts and you're not part of another second-stage organization. I guess I wanted to explore that a little bit with you, why you chose not to be. They do have a voice and they are, as you said yourself, effective.
MS. BERNARD: They have a voice for transition houses, they don't have a voice for second-stage housing. The interests of second-stage housing are lost within THANS.
MS. WHALEN: Do you think that would change if you joined, because you're the largest organization for second stage?
MS. BERNARD: No, I don't, and neither does the board and neither does the staff. Philosophically, we don't always agree; politically, we don't always agree. There are many reasons why we're not part of THANS.
MS. WHALEN: Would it be a good idea to create a separate organization that might represent second-stage housing, because it's . . .
MS. BERNARD: It would be we, ourselves and I, it would be a small group.
MS. WHALEN: I know Stephen asked you a bit about where they are elsewhere in the province, and . . .
MS. BERNARD: They're part of THANS. They're smart but they're also small. When you have two or three units, it makes it cost-effectively much more advantageous for them to be part of THANS than it is for us.
MS. WHALEN: So you've definitely looked at it in all its angles. I'm a firm believer that when you do band together with others - they obviously have to have common ground for that - the voice is much stronger. I have always supported groups that create a stronger voice across the province and raise their issues. It works well. So that was one concern I had, definitely.
I wanted to ask you a bit about the post-secondary students you have and social assistance. There's been a lot said and a campaign going provincially to see that role changed so that women or men who are on social assistance could access a university degree rather than just a two-year program. I wondered, have you had a role to play in that at all, how is it working for the women you have in your centre?
MS. BERNARD: There's one who is in university. I think it deters them from going to university, absolutely, because when I was in university you were able to access social assistance and not be penalized, and so I think you saw more women going to university during that time. The ones who are in community college right now definitely would have liked to have gone to university if that barrier had been removed. The one that is in university was halfway through a degree, so her dropping out was not an option in her mind. We've subsidized her rent, we've supported her above and beyond than if she were just on her own in terms of housing. So it is a consideration for women when they're looking at post-secondary education.
MS. WHALEN: So the one woman you have who is at university now would be accessing student loans and that would be the extent of her support?
MS. BERNARD: That's her income right now.
MS. WHALEN: Can I ask how many children she has?
MS. BERNARD: She's a single woman, she has two grown adult children not living with her, so she's a mature student.
MS. WHALEN: That's certainly better, because when you have children the student loan is simply not geared for anybody who has family.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely not.
MS. WHALEN: I definitely think that's something that we need to be on record for as well here at this committee, the importance of supporting women to get the level of education that will really ensure they can get out of poverty, essentially.
Madam Chairman, I'd like to in my time make a motion if I could. Could I read a motion and see if that's fine?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Yes.
MS. WHALEN: I'd like to suggest that the Community Services Committee strongly support the work of Alice Housing and all second-stage housing, and request that the Minister of Community Services immediately review the funding provided by the Province of Nova Scotia to ensure that Alice Housing does not have to reduce their capacity and sell properties.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Any discussion? Mr. Pye.
MR. PYE: Madam Chairman, I was about to basically make a similar motion. All I would ask is that you say, recognize the valuable work.
MS. WHALEN: Yes, strongly support and recognize the valuable work.
MR. PYE: It's a friendly amendment to your motion.
MS. WHALEN: I like that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We keep hearing there's no such thing as a friendly amendment. (Laughter)
MS. WHALEN: That would be great. As I said, I had just begun with, strongly support the work of Alice Housing, so we'll say, and recognize the valuable work. The benefits are clear, so I think we agree on that.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Any discussion on the motion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Any further discussion?
MR. GOSSE: I would like to excuse myself, if that's possible. I have to head back to Cape Breton shortly. I really thank you very much for coming in, it was enjoyable and I do recognize the many hats that you do wear as executive director, and good luck in the future. Thank you.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I think we have another comment or question from Jerry.
MR. PYE: I simply want to make some comments with respect to the grants committee of HRM. It's an annual rite of the grants committee so you're not automatically guaranteed the 50 per cent, it's one of those things that comes up for review on an annual basis. With respect to the business occupancy tax, although that's going to be phased out, the HRM will be interested in making sure that revenue is not lost, so it will probably be tacked onto your actual rent increase, so not to anticipate any real windfall on that.
Finally, in my initial question to you, I asked you if Alice Housing was eligible for any of the energy grants that were available and you did not respond.
MS. BERNARD: If it means doing renovations, no. If it means shelter enhancement paying for any renovations that would qualify us, yes. It's something I'll research, Jerry, absolutely.
The one thing I would like to say in response to Diana is that when I do research for Alice Housing and for the Marguerite Centre, specifically for people with addictions, for every dollar that government spends, $7 is saved in terms of detox, crime statistics and every other ripple effect that happens when people are in crisis. It has been my experience that governments only think in four-year terms, so it is very hard to get a long-term, sustainable plan out of any sitting government, regardless of political stripe.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Any further questions? If not, I want to thank you both for so ably representing your organization and the needs of women trying to escape family violence in our province. We wish you all the best and we'll certainly send that motion along to the department as soon as possible.
MS. BERNARD: Thank you very much.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We just have a little bit of housekeeping to do. I just want to remind the members that our Forum on Poverty was postponed to January 12th and 13th. It's going to take the two full days and I want to encourage all of you to get in touch with organizations and community groups within your constituency to let them know that the morning of the second day is being set aside for groups that might want to make presentations to us.
In the first day we're going to hear mainly from networks and coalitions of anti-poverty organizations, but there may be a lot of other organizations, chambers or groups that want to speak on the topic. If you get in touch with Mora we can make sure that they're included on the agenda for the morning of the second day. We are going to meet in the afternoon of Day 2 in order to decide what our strategy and response to what we've heard is, so that we can be a little more coordinated than we were the last time, where the forum was spread over a couple of different time periods and we lacked a little bit of focus in terms of moving ahead with that issue, so we're trying to prevent that from happening this time.
Again, we encourage each of you to be there and if you can't, we're asking you to make sure someone else from your caucus fills in for you. We'd like to have full representation for the full two days.
MS. WHALEN: I'm wondering, do we have representation again from the relevant departments, so it becomes interdepartmental? I know last time we had people from Justice, Community Services, and Health. Perhaps it was just at one point in the agenda that we did, the other time the forum was done, do you recall that?
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I'm not sure we have done anything more, Diana, than letting them know that it's going on and encouraging them to send observers. I'm not sure to this point that they've actually been invited to be participants in the discussion. Mora, do you want to comment on that?
MS. MORA STEVENS (Legislative Committee Clerk): They haven't been invited to participate. What we did last time is we heard from the organizations first and then it was after that we brought in the various departments, once they had a chance to look at what had happened, but it was also very difficult to get all the departments in as well, that's why it had taken so long.
The Coalition is in the morning doing presentations and then a large discussion forum in the afternoon of that first day. All of the other organizations that would like to participate are on the next day and then a recommendation session that second afternoon, but that doesn't include the various government departments.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: But I'm wondering, from Diana's point, that perhaps in the afternoon of Day 1, while we're having the more general discussion, if we should include representatives from some of the key departments. Often there are questions and if you don't have a representative there to answer them . . .
MS. WHALEN: It might be helpful at least to have some with the background and expertise to answer some of those questions. Maybe even if they're not participants, that they're there as a resource.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Can we add that?
MS. STEVENS: I can certainly contact them.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Thank you, that's a good suggestion.
MS. WHALEN: Just as a suggestion and I think it's important that they be there to hear, as you say, you had already mentioned about having observers. The other part is it sends a strong signal about these social issues that we deal with in Community Services cross boundaries on these departments. They are not just Justice, Health, there is so much that each of the departments can influence and I think it sends a signal to the community groups that it's recognized that these aren't in little silos.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: Very good point, thank you. Anyone else want to make a comment or suggestion about the forum?
MR. MCNEIL: Not about the forum but I do want to make a comment about the procedure here. It would be my suggestion that you not relinquish the Chair each and every time you want to ask a question. As we go around the table and we've all had equal chance to ask questions, if you can stay in the Chair and ask yours from there it just allows the meeting to flow better. No one would ever think you would be abusing your position in the Chair to ask questions, so I think instead of handing it over to someone . . .
MADAM CHAIRMAN: We discussed that previously and I think the outcome was that I should leave the Chair.
MR. MCNEIL: Oh really, what's wrong with you guys.
MR. PARENT: I appreciate your doing it, Marilyn. This committee is probably not as important, but other committees, the chair is supposed to be an impartial judge. If you're asking questions and you get excited about an issue, who's the impartial judge there? I think it's a good practice, even though 99 times out of 100 it's not necessary.
MR. MCNEIL: You're the fairest chair we have on all of our committees, Marilyn. (Laughter)
MR. PARENT: But in talking about procedure, I do have a question. It didn't really matter today, but the opening presentations have to be a bit shorter than they were today. She went 35 minutes.
MADAM CHAIRMAN: I know, and part of that was because originally we were scheduled to start at 8:50 a.m. and have the video done before the regular meeting started, but people were a little late coming. So Mora and I just (Interruptions)
MR. PARENT: We didn't get that information.
MR. MCNEIL: We didn't know that either.
MS. STEVENS: That was in your original e-mail. (Interruptions)
MADAM CHAIRMAN: She was a bit over the time, but it was an important issue. Thank you very much. Seasons greetings to all of you. (Interruptions)
Just a reminder, those of you who want to review the report before it's finalized, we'd like to be able to take a motion and table it at our next meeting, which would be the afternoon of Day 2 of the forum. What's the date? (Interruptions) So if you have any concerns or questions about it, get back to Mora before the forum. Thank you very much.
The meeting is adjourned.
[The committee adjourned at 10:46 a.m.]