Without guaranteed annual funding of $200,000, the Strathcona Community Centre Association will not commit to signing the operational framework now under negotiation between the Vancouver Park Board and the city's community centres.
The association’s president, Shannon Williams, says the community centre runs precariously close to the edge and relies on $1 million in annual donations, meaning numerous programs could be shut down at a moment’s notice if those funds unexpectedly dry up.
Without the assurance of $200,000 a year from the park board, she said, “As a board, we have taken the position that we can’t sign the joint operating agreement. We can barely make it through month to month and we can’t look forward 15 years and pass this legacy on.”
The Joint Operating Agreement, or JOA, would last 15 years between the park board and committing community centre associations, which is hovering around 22 out of 24 in the city.
Although each association has specific needs unique to their building, community and clients, the park board intends to bring them all under a blanket agreement to standardize operations, procedures and some programming.
A special meeting on the JOA negotiations is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Wosk Centre (580 West Hastings St.). The meeting will continue the next evening if necessary.
Williams said the community centre in Strathcona is unlike any other in the city because it serves a clientele that includes a large number of marginalized, impoverished and high-needs people who live in the demographically complex Downtown Eastside. Among the patrons relying on the centre’s weekly food handout are eight refugee families from Syria who live in the neighbourhood.
Moreover, the centre has no asset such as an ice rink, swimming pool or parking lot, the kinds of features that would allow it to charge revenue. Williams said two out of every three patrons has their fees subsidized, which means even less money trickling in for services.
Williams said negotiations with the park board have been fruitful and positive, noting she is optimistic of their support.
The association hired a private PR firm to host a media tour at the centre Jan. 27. Williams said they wanted to be sure their message was heard but did not say what they paid for the services of the Laura Ballance Media Group. The city said it did not know of community centre associations hiring external PR consultants in the past.
To cover its ongoing operating costs, the Strathcona association raises $1 million each year for its $1.7 million operating budget. Last year, they brought in more than $450,000 through fundraising and another $630,000 through grants.
They currently count on $50,000 from the park board on top of utilities, maintenance and salary for city staff working in the centre. At the end of 2016, the park board also chipped in $50,000 to cover an operating shortfall at Strathcona.
Williams specified the $200,000 they are asking for would help support programs that do not have secure funding, such as the backpack food service, a weekly food handout that provides 170 families and about 420 children with produce, non-perishables and yogurt once a week. Fruit and vegetables are donated from wholesale retailer Fresh Direct Produce, but the association is asking for secure funding to employ the program’s food securities co-ordinator. The centre also runs a daily breakfast program.
One in three families living in Strathcona and one in two living in the Downtown Eastside is low-income, compared with one in five across the city of Vancouver.
Nearly 40 per cent of those low-income Strathcona families has children under the age of six. Across the Downtown Eastside, 45 per cent of low-income families have children under six.
The median annual income for families in Strathcona is roughly $24,000 and in the Downtown Eastside, it’s even lower at $13,000. Across Vancouver, the average is nearly double at $47,000 a year.
This data is from a city study from 2013.