Family Centre faced with another move

Ken Kellar

After two years in operation, and moving twice in that time, the Family Centre has hit another roadblock.
Earlier in the year, the Family Centre currently being operated out of the old CN station expanded its presence in the building owned by the Volunteer Bureau, by renting out a larger space, in addition to the small office it had previously occupied. However, in a letter from the Volunteer Bureau dated Feb. 26, 2020 and received by the Family Centre the following day, the Bureau informed the Centre that they would no longer be allowed to rent the hall exclusively, which has forced the Family Centre to squeeze back into the small office.
Monica Sus and Traci Lockman, volunteers at the Family Centre, say that as their program has grown, and more people have begun to use its services, the smaller office just can’t meet their needs any longer.
“We’re just really worried about where do these people go?” Lockman said while sitting in the larger hall, on their last day of occupancy. Even before noon on a weekday, the centre had nearly a dozen people in it, and both Sus and Lockman noted that number was on the low side for any given day.
“It’s cold, people are hungry. We would like to keep this space, but worst case scenario, we are looking for a new space,” she added.
The Centre has been in operation in several locations for two years now, and provides services to people who are in need.
“We have a clothing bank, we have an emergency food bank. We’re just not going to have room to run these programs,” Lockman said.
“We store people’s belongings, because the one thing that the homeless said over and over again is that their belongings got stolen, so we store their belongings. We’re going to have to stop doing all that to make room just to sit over there.”
The two women also feel the centre itself is misunderstood by many members of the community who might not realize that people in need come in different varieties.
“The word homeless gets out there,” Sus said.”And it’s not homeless. It’s people who have homes. People who can’t make it to the end of the month. People who have jobs but have no homes. Every situation is different.”
Sus said the fact that they have been in operation so long, and have grown so much, is largely thanks to the outpouring of community support they have received since their earliest days.
“The community dropped off more coffee, more tea, more hot chocolate than you can believe,” she recalled of the earlier days of operating the Family Centre.
“Blankets and pillows. The community itself embraced us… As of tomorrow we will have been existing for two years. And I think two years, and not being out of money, is pretty darn good.”
Sus went on to say that the letter is just the latest piece in an effort to communicate with the Volunteer Bureau that has been ongoing for a few months, as the Family Centre say they have tried to negotiate a solution. The latest proposal to the Bureau proposed amalgamating the rent for both spaces, and using the Volunteer Bureau’s charitable status number to collect donations, which would be placed in a separate account and used towards rent. Sus noted that many donors have expressed that they would make larger contributions if a tax receipt were provided.
In the letter from the Volunteer Bureau provided to the Times, it was stated that they were unable to comply with the requests because of concerns it “could affect our charitable status.”
For Sus and Lockman, the letter feels like another deep pothole in a long and bumpy road, and that the people who make use of the Centre feel it too.
“We don’t call it the Family Centre because we get huge groups of families. We call it the family centre because we want people to feel like they’re welcome here, like they are part of a family,” Lockman said.
“What we heard yesterday when we gave everybody the news is that they don’t feel good enough, like the Volunteer Bureau doesn’t find them good enough. We’ve run into so many obstacles that we’ve become very solution-based, solution-focused. We even had solutions to that letter which we had brought forward in the board meeting, but they are not interested.”
Volunteer Buerau board member Judy Koski explained that lending out their charitable status number is just not possible.
“The Government of Canada states that any registered charity is prohibited from sharing its resources with any individual or private organization,” Koski said.
“We’re not making that up or trying to be difficult. This is the law.”
However, board chair Joel Morris said there is some potential in the law to work with the Family Centre in that capacity.
“There are what they call charitable donees, and it’s slightly vague on what that is,” he said.
“So basically we can donate or use that [charitable status number] for another donee. What we’re not allowed to do is, if say a Bantam hockey team came to us and said, ‘we want to do a 50/50 raffle ticket but we can’t get a license without a charitable license number, can we use yours?’ That’s what we can’t do.”
As it stands now, the Family Centre will continue to operate out of the smaller offices at the Volunteer Bureau building until the end of April. The Centre is currently asking for community members to sign a petition in support of their cause, which can be found at their location, and they will also be holding a rally at the building on Sunday, March 8 from 2-4 p.m. But if nothing comes of those actions, they’ll have to figure out an alternate solution before long.
“We will be here for the next two months,” Sus confirmed.
“Once the end of April comes, we don’t know. But worst comes to worst, we will probably close down until we find a solution. The nice part of it is we have May, June, July, August, part of September.”
“We’re hoping that a lot of the drama has died down,” Lockman added,
“That people are seeing us for what we really are and will come to embrace us, and maybe the community will see this as a problem we need to all be on together, everyone.”