City funding cuts force Aboriginal homeless drop-in centre to close
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The head of a drop-in centre for Ottawa's Aboriginal population said he was “shocked and angry” to learn the city has decided to cut future funding, forcing his 10-year-old refuge on Rideau Street to close.
Neal Freeland, president of the Odawa Native Friendship Centre, said the funding cuts for the Shawenjeagamik Aboriginal Drop-In Centre at 510 Rideau St. will force it to close down for good on March 31.
The centre serves approximately 500 clients and makes upwards of 60,000 meals per year.
It receives funding from the federal and provincial governments, which is administered by the City of Ottawa.
Freeland said it received just over $400,000 per year.
He said the drop-in centre provides specialized services, including staff who speak a variety of First Nations languages, elders who visit to give talks, and daily smudging ceremonies.
“They’re going to lose culturally appropriate support for crisis intervention counselling, transition counselling, as well as addictions and substance abuse counsellors who are there at the centre,” said Freeland.
The centre will host a meeting at St. Paul’s Eastern United Church at 11 a.m. Thursday to talk to the homeless about what options they have. In the meantime, Freeland said he is hoping to meet with Mayor Jim Watson to ask the city to reconsider.
According to city manager Kent Kirkpatrick, the federal government changed its funding criteria in a bid to put more money towards housing.
“The federal government decided that they wanted to adopt a housing-first policy," Mayor Jim Watson told reporters Wednesday, "which meant that we had to go and change the criteria for the funding, so the request for proposals was issued, a peer review looked at all of the organizations and they came up with a series of recommendations."
With files from Lucy Scholey