Friendship Centre struggles defined by funding challenges

Thunder Bay – Despite strong programming aimed at a growing population Friendship Centres continue to lurch from year to year without financial certainty, according to New Democrat Aboriginal Health Critic, Carol Hughes (MP for Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing) and Thunder Bay Rainy River, MP John Rafferty.

The MPs met with officials from the Thunder Bay Indian Friendship Centre on Saturday and much of what they heard confirms that these vital community organizations are financially stretched and operating in a climate of budgetary uncertainty from one year to the next.

 “Much of what I heard echoes the struggles of centres in other locations that I have met with,’ said Hughes. “The population they are serving is growing but the funds to do so are not.”

 The Friendship Centre indicates that they are stretched both financially and physically which places limits on what they can do.  The funding for Friendship Centres was cut significantly in the 1990s with no increase since.

 “The urban aboriginal population is growing exponentially in Canada and Thunder Bay is no different, plus it is a hub for many First Nations communities,” said Rafferty.  “There is no end of demand or good ideas on how to serve this population, the limiting factor is certainly funding.”

 Both MPs note that the fact the centre is able to administer and deliver twenty programs is a testament to the commitment, creativity, and willpower of both staff and volunteers.

“What they are able to do is fantastic,” Said Rafferty. “There is demand for more programming too, but the physical and monetary limitations won’t allow that.”

“It is important to remember that there are costs associated with so many items nowadays,” said Hughes.  “Even something as helpful and potentially cost offsetting as volunteering now carries the costs for background checks and training to limit legal liability. It is important that policy makers recognize these costs to allow organizations expand their reach.”