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Vancouver's poorest community centres will get unique deal

Park board backs Strathcona Community Centre demands for secure funding

The community centre in Strathcona is saddled with unique, complex demands that set it apart from most others in the city and should have a distinct contract and secure funding.

This was the unanimous decision taken Monday night by the park board, now wrapping up a year-long effort to sign the city’s 21 community centre associations to a joint operating agreement. Proposing a different deal marks a new direction for Strathcona and potentially other community centres that struggle financially.

The park board is also prepared to put its hand out. It will consider “potential funding partners” that can “develop an interim as well as a long-term strategy for a sustainable funding model.”

The new direction was supported by the community centre association president.

strathcona community centre food
A volunteer hands out fresh fruit at Strathcona Community Centre Jan. 27, 2017. The free weekly food program is at risk if the community centre can't secure funding for the program's co-ordinator. Photo Dan Toulgoet

“Over the last several months, it became clear that we couldn’t be supported in very significantly through the JOA,” said Shannon Williams about the joint operating agreement between centres and the park board that could still include an “investment fund” to a small amount of revenue from more to less profitable centres.

“They have really taken the step. It is a significant shift that the park board is saying they need to support community centres such as ours, so we are really heartened by that,” she said. “The board has heard us and understands and appreciates our concerns and those of other centers in similar situations.”

The decisions has two phases and will begin with recommendations specific to Strathcona on a short-term basis before long-term options are considered for it and any other community centre with similar financial limits and burdens.

“Something needed to be done differently,” said Vision commissioner Catherine Evans.

The Strathcona community centre association fundraises $1 million of its annual $1.7 million operating budget each year. Park board staff is tasked with researching models to follow or innovations to dream up and will present interim, short-term suggestions to the board by June 30. Long-term models will be presented by Nov. 30.

 “I would suggest staff was already working toward a solution with Strathcona, but I think it’s important we separate the process and formalize this so the commissioners and staff all recognize and that we are ready to address this,” said NPA commissioner Casey Crawford, who is the park board liaison to the Strathcona Community Centre and proposed an initial motion that he later revised alongside Evans because she had proposed a similar but separate motion of her own.

park board evans crawford mackinnon
Park board commissioners: Vision's Catherine Evans, the NPA's Casey Crawford and the Green's Stuart Mackinnon.

“Poverty isn’t restricted to one neighbourhood or two or three, it is throughout our city,” said Evans, who did not want the community centre in Strathcona to be mistaken as anything else. “It’s very important it be a community centre in the same way every other centre plays a central role in its community. The fact if faces funding challenges doesn’t change its role. It is just a difference of resources available to it through program fees.”

The Strathcona community centre association had asked the park board for guaranteed funding of $200,000 going forward. Depending on the operational model that is suggested and approved, they could get more, or less, from the park board or could be funded through numerous other government partners and a distinct model. For example, the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre located a few blocks from Strathcona is not strictly a community centre, but provides many similar services and is operated through agreements with their a board of directors along with the city and BC Housing.

“I think most community centres say they would face funding challenges,” said Stuart Mackinnon, with the Green Party, who later commended the work of Strathcona representatives, staff and patrons for opening up about their struggles, both financial and human.

After the vote, a small group of spectators broke into applause. Many of them, including Williams, Ron Suzuki and Veronica Light, had attended every special public meeting held by the park board as the joint operating agreement is ironed out.

“We are really happy the board has heard us,” said Williams.