From the VANCOUVER SUN
Award-winning RedFox Healthy Living Society forced to close its after-school offerings after six years
BY GERRY BELLETT - JUNE 23, 2012
Emma Sutherland is concerned that the funding for the RedFox program has been cancelled. RedFox provides cultural and social opportunities for aboriginal youth. Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG , Vancouver Sun
A successful after-school program for Downtown Eastside aboriginal and disabled youth is shutting down because the Treasury Board has frozen a $22-million grant to Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth - a national program designed to enhance the economic, social, cultural and personal prospects for off-reserve youth.
RedFox Healthy Living Society, a non-profit group that was counting on a $85,000 grant to keep its programs going though the year, is closing down after six years, said executive director Emma Sutherland.
"We're a healthy-living skills and employment training program for aboriginal youth and youth with disabilities. We operate on an absolute shoestring and we serve over 200 kids a month, and with the special events we do throughout Metro Vancouver each year we reach over 15,000 children and their families," she said.
The program has won a number of awards and is considered "a best practice" by the provincial government, said Sutherland.
RedFox is active in 10 schools and community centres in East Vancouver and was planning a number of events that would have involved aboriginal youth during the summer holidays - the most important time of the year for the program.
The freeze on releasing the funds to the various Cultural Connections for Aboriginal Youth (CCAY) centres across Canada is incomprehensible, said Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies.
B.C. organizations have received about $3 million in funding with half being spent in Metro Vancouver.
"This is going to have a drastic impact on aboriginal youth. This is a critically needed, front-line ser-vice that has been wiped out," said Davies. "We're hoping that a quick response will put enough pressure on the minister to have the decision reversed."
In parliament Thursday, Jean Crowder, NDP MP for Nanaimo-Cowichan, asked Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Minister John Duncan to explain why the Treasury Board froze the funding when he had earlier stated that the cultural connections program would be safe from cuts.
Duncan said he had just met with the national president of the organization and "we are concerned about this issue."
He said the government wanted to realign the program to "meet our cur-rent needs for skills training development and job readiness."
Crowder reminded the minister that Thursday was National Aboriginal Day. "These are programs that keep kids off the streets and keep them going to school. Staff have been laid off, doors closed and uncertainty has grown around the cultural connections. This is a blow to the great work that friendship centres do across the country," she said.
Sutherland said cancellation came after RedFox had already spent $25,000 in anticipation of the grant being renewed.
"We've been operating on an agreement that our program was accepted for funding on April 1. That has been the way the government has forced us to operate. We had to deliver pro-grams but they made us wait for the money.
"We have spent $25,000 and expected that money to come in but now they've told us they're cancelling the whole program. We're shutting down almost immediately," she said. The federal grant of $85,000 accounted for 70 per cent of the society's operating budget.
One of the programs planned for the summer was a geocaching project in partnership with Telus, which was designed to get inner-city kids out of their neighbourhoods and into regional parks.
"It would teach them about technology and get them out of the city but the program was contingent on getting CCAY funding. We were at the point where we were going to take Strathcona students and give them something to do in the summer and now we're scrambling," said Sutherland.
Paul Lacerte, executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, said the loss of programs would have a devastating effect on at-risk aboriginal youth.
"At the worst it means we are going to lose some youth. These are very vulnerable young people. We have people who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction and we are keeping them from conditions where they are going to overdose. We also have a massive problem with young people in terms of self-harm.
"So all the indications are that this will mean lives, for sure," said Lacerte.
"For at-risk youth, trust is hard-earned and easily lost. Now their sup-port worker has lost his job and has bills to pay and needs to find another job the kid will say 'yeah that's what everyone in my life has done - given me the illusion of a relationship then have it all disappear.'"