(Submitted by Jenny Churchill - image credit)
The Ministry of Social Services will conduct an independent review of the Raising Hope Moving Families Forward program run by Regina's Street Workers Advocacy Project.
A group of former staff and residents of Raising Hope first raised their concerns about the program with the ministry in early November.
Former staff member Cheryl Deschene said allegations include "the collapse of the program pillars, and harassment, intimidation and bullying of residents and staff."
In December, SWAP announced it would be conducting a review of the policy framework and outcomes of the program.
But Minister of Social Services Lori Carr said in a statement that the ministry is stepping in due to concerns raised about that review. She said the ministry would contract directly with a consultant to complete a program and board governance review.
"It's important to do so to ensure independence, transparency and public confidence in the review process," Carr said in the statement.
"The Government of Saskatchewan partners with community-based organizations to provide services and supports to vulnerable families in Regina and area. Our priority continues to be the families in the program, and ensuring they are supported."
The group that brought the concerns forward now consists of 26 current and former residents, staff and community members, including former staff like Deschene, Jenny Churchill, Maddie Sanderson and Donna Anderson Blind.
Deschene said that initially, her group was encouraged by the announcement that SWAP would be conducting a review but she said it soon became clear there were problems with it.
"We uncovered alleged conflict of interest, bias and deception," she said.
The group is exploring legal options related to that review and Deschene said she did not want to go into detail about what was found.
"Minister Carr has confirmed that our concerns have been taken very seriously," she said.
She said Minister Carr confirmed that the review headed by SWAP will not proceed.
CBC reached out to SWAP and a member of the advisory committee for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
'Calling for government accountability'
The parameters of the review haven't been announced yet, but Deschene said a financial audit should be part of the review.
She said SWAP received $7 million in federal, provincial and municipal funding over the last three years up to the period ending March 31, 2020.
"There's a lot of money at stake here," she said. "We're also calling for government accountability, you know, oversight of community-based organizations that are funded with public money."
Deschene said the program itself is a good one, and is meant to support women who struggle with addictions and who have children in care or are at risk of having their children apprehended.
But she said the leadership is not following the six pillars of the program, which the funding of the program is based on. The pillars are:
Cheryl Deschene believes the Raising Hope program needs to be successful so it can keep helping women in the community. However, she believes that it needs to return to its guiding principals if it is to succeed in helping vulnerable people.
Deschene said the ideal outcome of the review would be to have the leadership removed from the program.
"It's important to us that the program remains intact," she said. "We need this program in Saskatchewan, and so if we can get people in to run the program in a responsible and respectful way, that's the goal."
'Not about power, control, oppression'
The group first raised concerns in November when resident Fay Munro was facing eviction. Initially, they were calling for immediate government intervention to stop the program from evicting Munro, who was being asked to leave Dec. 31.
Those calls for help went unheeded and Munro was indeed evicted.
But Deschene said Munro is doing well — she has her own home now and will be celebrating one year of sobriety on March 18.
"She's been through so much trauma and has shown such resilience and strength, and we are so proud of her," Deschene said.
Fay Munro was worried about what would happen to her and her baby girl when she was evicted from the Raising Hope residential support program in Regina.
She said Munro is seeing a therapist and elder, and is receiving support from The Gathering Place.
Not all of the stories have a happy ending, though.
Deschene said she is currently working with the father of a former Raising Hope resident who died and could think of nine other women who were evicted that "have not had very good outcomes," she said.
"These programs are to help these people. This is not about power, control, oppression. This is about helping these women become independent, however long that takes for them. And that, you know, that's that's not really happening."