Lethbridge YWCA cancels supportive housing programme

The programme closure will put over 20 workers out of a job and will require finding different accommodations for over 20 residents.

Earlier this week, someone reached out to me to tell me that a caseworker at YWCA Lethbridge & District told my source that the YWCA was shutting down their housing programme.

The YWCA runs two on-site housing programmes.

Harbour House is a 24-hour emergency shelter and crisis line that assists women (and their children) fleeing abuse, as well as those in crisis. Residents can stay in Harbour House for up to 21 days.

Women’s Residence is a safe and secure, semi-supported living environment for women and children to rent rooms at below market prices. The YWCA has 25 single rooms and 5 double rooms split between 2 floors. Kitchens, washrooms, and laundry are shared.

The Women’s Residence programme has also been known as their permanent supportive housing programme.

According to my source, this decision will affect 21 residents, as well as 28 workers who had been employed by the YWCA.

However, when I reached out to Jill Young, the CEO of the Lethbridge YWCA, she said that “this program involves just over 20 staff. As a non-profit, positions are typically related to the funded program, which is in this case, and unfortunately, we will not have opportunities for them after March 31st.”

Young also aid that the programme had been “funded for 24 participants”.

However, a worker I spoke to, who works in the Women’s Residence programme and wanted to remain anonymous, claimed that “30 women will be evicted as of 5:00 p.m. on the 31st”.

The Women’s Residence programme began in 2020 through a partnership between the YWCA and the City of Lethbridge. The contract between the two parties expires at the end of this month, and the YWCA chose to not renew it.

“This was an extremely difficult decision that we know impacts multiple facets throughout our community,” said Young in a media release. “Our housing first and harm reduction approaches are about supporting women where they need us most. However, the constraints of the program model and associated available funding do not allow us to meet the complex needs of each of these women on a sustainable basis.”

Also in that media release, Young said that the YWCA will work during the next week and a half with “funding partners and other permanent supportive housing providers to facilitate a smooth transition for residents from our downtown building to available locations throughout Lethbridge and surrounding area.”

The worker I spoke to called this decision “heartbreaking”.

“I loved my job and knew that I was helping,” they said. “The Y will say that they’re working with other agencies, but the timeline given is unrealistic for most. I wouldn’t even be able to find housing in 30 days.”

My source claimed that a friend of theirs worked in the soon-to-be-cancelled programme but is away on maternity leave and will no longer have a job to return to.

The worker also is disappointed that the workers losing their jobs because of this decision weren’t consulted prior to the decision.

They also shared with me that 6 of the workers who will be laid off had been working at ARCHES when the supervised consumption site had been shut down. This is the second time in 2.5 years that these 6 workers have lost their jobs because of funding issues.

Just weeks before cancelling their programme that was housing roughly two dozen women, the YWCA hosted their Women of Distinction award ceremony.

Update (20 March 2022): An earlier version of this story connected the Lethbridge Housing Authority to this decision of the YWCA, based on the unverified comments of an anonymous source. I have since removed it and apologize for any confusion or negativity it generated toward the LHA.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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