A bustling nonprofit that offers addictions support, employment for unsheltered people, and more is in need of a Christmas miracle as they prepare to say goodbye to their building after the holidays.
In 22 days, Sscope will be closing its 865 Main Street building's doors. They are facing eviction from their location that offers shelter, employment, and other social programs for people living with mental health illnesses and addiction that face barriers at other shelters.
"It is hard to throw your friends and family out," Executive Director Angela McCaughan says. "People who live in the housing work in the housing, and the housing pays for itself. We are not looking for long-term funding."
Sscopes needs $1.5 million to make a down payment to buy the building they have been leasing to stay. McCaughan has reached out to all three levels of government on many occasions for help keeping their building open, only to now be met with silence.
"All three levels of government don't care about these people. It is shameful. The social return on investment is huge. We are saving money. And do you know what we need afterwards? Nothing. We need nothing. We don't need any more funding."
She says Winnipeg Police Service officers regularly drop people off people in need of help in their back parking lot. McCaughan has gotten phone calls from hospitals and jails, asking if people can stay there, to which she always answers yes. On January 7, that answer will be no.
One of the reasons they were told why they were denied funding was Sscope did not know what they were doing. Sscope is in its 30th year.
Less than a week before her death, Thompson MLA Danielle Adams wrote Families Minister Rochelle Squires on the behalf of Sscope, asking for immediate help.
"SSCOPE has worked hard over the last couple of years at their current location to establish themselves as a leading organization in helping Manitobans with mental health and addictions issues," Adams writes in one of her last acts as MLA. "Without the continuation of their services at their current location, many Manitobans will sadly find themselves back on the streets."
McCaughan has not heard from Squires since the letter was sent. We reached out to Minister Squires early Tuesday afternoon, receiving a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“The provision of safe, stable and affordable housing is a priority for me and for our government, and we have made several important commitments in recent months to support Manitobans experiencing homelessness," Squires says in an emailed statement, noting the $1.5 million fund from the province for an Indigenous-led warming space and 150 new overnight beds at 190 Disraeli Freeway. "The province appreciates the support that Sscope has offered people experiencing homelessness, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Squires says the province supports Sscopeusing the Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) program. She says they also give signifacant funding to Sscope's employment program through the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.
"We get no funding from her. People that are on EIA, yah, their rent gets paid. We get $589 a month. That is room, board, and supportive housing. That doesn't cover our costs. That's everything," she says. "She is not funding us. That is just a political spin."
Squires says the province has given $5.8 million to Siloam Mission, Salvation Army and Resource Assistance for Youth for shelter beds and physical distancing, and daytime drop-in and alternative isolation accommodations operated by Main Street Project since the start of the pandemic. She says they Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association has been given $5.6 million"for the creation of Manitoba’s first rent bank program to support stable housing for low-income and moderate-income families."
She says this givens interst-free loans to tenants behind on rent or in need of more suitable housing.
One thing McCaughan is struggling with is knowing if she was granted the funding to make the down payment, she says they would be self-sufficient.
McCaughan has seen a woman go from being addicted while pregnant to now caring for her "chubby little five-month-old nugget" on her own, and another woman go to hairdressing school and use her free time to cut hair for other people in the unsheltered population.
"One of the people that stayed here, he used to be the guy that you saw sniffing between the WRHA (Winnipeg Regional Health Authority) corporate offices," McCaughan says.
After six months, she says someone decided "the colonial dream" for this man was to live in another place.
"He went from being one of my best volunteers and not seeing him there anymore and sniffing and getting beaten up to going back because he did not have the support of here anymore."
He has since come back to Sscope.
McCaughan is clearly the "mama bear" saying she will do the best she can without a building, working out of the trunk of her car if she has to.