Additional funding for off-reserve Indigenous services comes as a relief for those working to meet increased demands in the north due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tony Goulet, an executive director with the Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre in Quesnel, said it has been a scary situation during the pandemic as there has been little financial help for friendship centres which are seeing an increase in needs for off-reserve Indigenous residents.
On Thursday, May 21, 2020, the federal government, which had previously promised $15 million for all provinces and territories to share between such off-reserve organizations, announced it would be increasing that funding to $75 million.
“Everybody was wondering what’s going on, especially us. We were like what do we do? How do we keep up the good services that we have,” Goulet said of how they were feeling prior to the announcement. “So this is good news for us as a friendship centre.”
Goulet said without the increased funding his organization would have been forced to reduce services.
“It would be detrimental if we didn’t have the funds to keep us going.”
Goulet hopes to use the federal funding to support food security and connect children and vulnerable individuals to technology.
“It’s quite amazing that not everybody, and we’re in 2020, has technology,” he said. “You would think that with everything everybody does, but I would say there’s a lot of people, maybe 10 percent of our clients, who don’t have access to computers, internet or any of that stuff.”
The details as to how much friendship centres will receive is still being worked out and further information will likely not be known until the upcoming days, he said, adding the Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre has seen the pandemic increase their volunteer hours, service contacts and clients considerably over last year.
At this time last year the society logged 9,700 volunteer hours, over 38,000 points of service contact and 14,863 clients coming through the door for support.
This year 11,000 volunteer hours and 47,000 points of service contact have been tallied with 18,000 clients utilizing the services offered at Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre, Goulet said.
A bag lunch service held each Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. attracts about 50 people in the small community.
Goulet said their moms group which was cancelled earlier due to the pandemic is gaining in popularity, and a hall was created into a work space for vulnerable children who by appointment are provided the appropriate equipment, connection and space to do their online classes when schools are closed.
“We’re busy. We’re just thinking outside of the box here,” he said. “The only thing we get a lot of criticism for is that we can’t be open to the public but we’re not that far along yet.”
There currently is no date for when Tillicum Society Native Friendship Centre will reopen its doors.
Goulet added the funding will also be put toward other necessities, like keeping its staff working and the lights on.
“I would hate to see a friendship centre close because there was no funding or they had issues and it couldn’t be funded so I guess I’m glad that they are announcing that funding and it’s going to be coming to friendship centres.”