Winnipeg neighbourhood group lays off staff after provincial funding shortfall

Winnipeg neighbourhood group lays off staff after provincial funding shortfall

Six jobs are on the chopping block and programming is set to be slashed at the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association due to lack of funding from the provincial government.

The association's executive director told CBC News that the Pallister government's "pause" of the Neighbourhoods Alive! program has left the west central-area association broke and with no choice but to issue layoff notices effective May 12. 

"This is definitely not our first choice," said Kemlin Nembhard, the association's executive director. "They have forced us into the position."

Layoff notices were issued Thursday to all of the association's six full-time programming staff members, who directed programming in areas such as bedbug prevention and housing. The staff members also helped run the resource centre and with the gutting of staff, Nembhard said they will likely have to reduce its hours. 

"All of our programming will be on hold," she said, adding this includes all their senior and youth programs, along with outreach programs.

"If we don't have program staff, we can't do it."

Province says funding guaranteed for 2017

The provincial government is pushing back at claims it has been unclear on funding commitments.

On Thursday afternoon, Indigenous and Municipal Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke blamed the layoffs on decisions by the association's board. She said core funding will continue to flow to the associations for the rest of 2017.

"We understand they have concerns going forward in the long term in regards to the programs, but we have also indicated to them that we want to enhance the programs. We want to make sure that the outcomes are successful," said Clarke. 

She said some organizations are excited about the upcoming changes.

Nembhard said the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews association has two long-term, multi-year funding agreements with the province that extend to 2019 and 2022, but there has been no commitment from the provincial government to continue to honour the agreement. 

When told of Clarke's comments, she said she has been given no indication that funding would continue past the first quarter of this year. CBC News reached out to several other groups reliant on Neighbourhoods Alive! funding who echoed Nembhard's sentiments.

"We're not hearing anything and I think that is why people are getting nervous," said Jamil Mahmood, the executive director of the Spence Neighbourhood Association.

Mahmood said they have enough money in their contingency fund to avoid layoffs — for now.

"But it is pretty precarious until we hear one way or the other," he said.

Dufferin neighbourhood association to lose lone staff member

Meanwhile, a lack of a funding commitment means the Dufferin Residents' Association of Winnipeg will lose its only paid staff member.

The association's community development co-ordinator, Jessie Leigh, told CBC News she will be out of a job by the end of next month.

The association will continue to exist as a board, but will have to rely on volunteers and the resources of the North End Community Renewal Corporation.

"It will definitely have impact. [The funding] allowed the [association] to carry things out during the day, five days a week," she said, adding her main role involved outreach, community development and safety initiatives for the residents of the neighbourhood.

"Right now the overarching sentiment is one of feeling insulted because there has been a real lack of communication around all of this and what it means. Just hanging around and waiting for something good to happen is wearing thin."

Program been under review since last summer

The Neighbourhoods Alive! program has been on hold since last summer following the election of the Progressive Conservatives in the 2016 provincial election. However, the budget released earlier this month committed the $5 million in funding for the program, the same amount as the 2016 budget. 

"I don't think it needs to be this way, this program has been under review since August and they have passed it in the budget, so the money is in the budget," said Nembhard. "They knew these timelines were coming up ... it is really frustrating and I also worry about people in our community who count on our services and now we won't be there."

All 13 of the province's Neighbourhood Renewal Corporations, such as Daniel McIntyre and the Spence Neighbourhood Association, were given the first quarter portion of their core funding.

However, the money did not cover all of the grants that the Neighbourhoods Alive! program funded, leaving Daniel McIntyre unable to keep staff on their payroll. There has been no communication from the government when or if the rest of the money will flow to the corporations, Nembhard said. 

About 50 per cent of their government funding comes from an agreement outside of their core funding. There has been no indication that money will come, and no funds have been delivered this fiscal year, she said. 

The corporations deliver programming for employment and education, crime and safety, and help with housing issues.

Nembhard said the one saving grace for the association is that it recently was given a grant to hire summer students, which will temporally fill some of the gap left by the layoffs.

Once summer is over, if no funding is made available, the resource centre will have to close, she said. 

"It is a huge gap. We get hundreds through the resource centre every week, We have free computers, people come and use our phone, people can send faxes," she said. 

Nembhard will be the only permanent staff member following the May 12 layoffs and she has had to cut her hours down to part-time. If the association receives the funding, the layoff notices will be rescinded.