As the Blue Door swings shut, critics condemn silence from N.L. government on sex exploitation funding

·3 min read
Survivors of sexual exploitation have only six weeks remaining as of Friday in a one-of-a-kind exit program based in St. John's. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Survivors of sexual exploitation have only six weeks remaining as of Friday in a one-of-a-kind exit program based in St. John's. (Shutterstock - image credit)

A program aimed at helping survivors of sexual exploitation in Newfoundland and Labrador is nearing its end — and fast — without any word from the provincial government on whether officials will provide the funding to salvage it.

The Blue Door program, run by non-profit Thrive in St. John's, offers help to people who want to leave the sex trade or who've been exploited and trafficked: people forced to trade sex for shelter, for instance, or those using sex work as a source of income out of necessity rather than choice.

About 80 people, largely young women and girls, have used the program since its inception five years ago, gaining access to therapy, apartments, education and jobs.

But as the clock ticks and the last dollars of the program's five-year federal funding commitment drain away, some of those survivors — many of them burdened by trauma, mental illness, poverty and other hurdles — may be left with nowhere to turn, the organization's director says.

"I'm just thinking about how much they've been through already," said a tearful Angela Crockwell on Friday.

Crockwell says she's been in contact with government officials in an array of departments for years, reminding them that the funding that created the program would run out Feb. 28.

In October, she submitted a full proposal to four departments and the premier's office, asking them to take over the outreach workers' salaries and program overhead, a $417,000 annual cost.

Three months later, she still hasn't heard back.

CBC
CBC

"We do not know if this is under consideration, if there's been any decision whatsoever," Crockwell said.

She fears that indecision will leave dozens of vulnerable people with more mistrust of organizational support systems than they initially entered with.

"For a lot of people in their lives, they have had histories of supports leaving them, or abandonment issues. How do we do this in a way that we're not replicating that trauma and harm to people?" she asked.

"Our collective hearts are kind of broken, to feel like we are in some ways duplicating some of that harm that has already been done to people."

At a press conference Friday, the PC Party drew attention to Blue Door's funding woes and condemned the Liberals' silence.

"It just seems somewhat almost callous that they haven't [replied]," Helen Conway Ottenheimer, the party's critic for women and gender equality, told reporters.

"If you're not going to fund the program, have the courtesy to let them know so that they can make plans for … the participants in the program, so that they're not left in the dark," she said.

"It's about choices, isn't it? When a government chooses not to respond to something as vital, as important and critical as this, that in itself says a lot. They are aware of the predicament and the plight of this important program. They're aware."

No commitment

Crockwell said the Blue Door team, consisting of four outreach workers and a director, has spent the last few weeks preparing those clients for life without the program, attempting to pull together a mishmash of community resources and organizations that will fill the program's void.

She's more worried about some of the participants than others.

"There is a deep concern for what happens to people after March 1," Crockwell said.

CBC News requested comment from the Premier Andrew Furey's office and from the Office of Women and Gender Equality.

A spokesperson for the Office of Women said the government "has met with" Thrive but did not answer when asked why government has not offered the organization a status update on its proposal.

However, the office outlined that government departments have provided the non-profit with more than $650,000 during the current fiscal year.

The office did not commit to supplying funding for Blue Door in Friday's statement.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting