Violence against women outreach and counselling services could soon decrease, stop for a period of time, or be removed from Vanderhoof altogether.
“The government is hosting an open procurement and the worst thing that could happen is they pull our programs and they end up in a different community. We serve women from Fraser Lake to Fort St. James and some of these women wouldn’t be able to access them if they moved to Prince George. The OSH is in danger of losing its integral outreach programs,” Lynne Stuart, Omineca Safe Home (OSH) counsellor said.
Through the Services to Victims of Crime Initiative (SVCI), the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is planning an open procurement for roughly 400 violence against women outreach programs as part of a plan to better match service to demand. This bid-for-service process will require potential and current providers to submit a Request For Proposal (RFP) to obtain services.
The outreach and counsellor positions offered at the Omineca Safe Home (OSH) in Vanderhoof are included in this open procurement.
The initiative started in 2013 but the government has completed their consultation phase with service providers and are working on a procurement plan (Phase 3) that is expected to be finalized in summer 2015. Since there are hundreds of contracts, the implementation of this open procurement is expected to take place over a three-year period.
The ministry has advised that they are striving for transparency, openness and fairness in order to align with government procurement policy and best meet the needs of victims of crime in B.C.
“Even if that means the program is taken out of Vanderhoof,” Stuart questions. “If I lost my job that’s not even the worst thing, I could find other work. The worst thing is the battered women not having the service or access to counselling or outreach. Chances are good they would stay in the dangerous situation they’re in.”
Ministry media spokesperson Stuart Bertrand said the current system will remain in place in order to minimize any disruption in service and that they are working to ensure service providers are informed and prepared for the upcoming changes.
During the last year, ministry staff have met in-person with service providers across B.C. to hear their concerns. An update sent out March 10 has given service providers a chance to look over and comment on the draft plan.
“Yet at their [meetings] no one from the public was allowed and only one person per agency. Quite a narrow scope if you ask me,” Stuart said.
Under the new plan, service providers such as the OSH will have to submit a RFP to keep their services in the community, something Stuart feels is a waste of time.
“There’s a set amount every year as a standard funding system so we can budget, plan and do our work. We don’t have time to write an RFP every year,” Stuart said.
The ministry has reiterated that the SVCI is not a cost-cutting exercise but an initiative to ensure resources and funding best meet the needs of victims of crime in BC.