Winnipeg charity providing housing, jobs fear building loss
A Winnipeg social enterprise that provides housing, support and employment for people with addictions and mental health issues is concerned that it will have to move if it cannot buy its building.
Sscope – which stands for Self-starting Creative Opportunities for People in Employment – started renting out the old Neechi Commons building on Main Street a year ago.
The organization offers a 24-hour drop-in, offering meals, activities and accommodation.
Currently, 46 people live in Sscope, according to executive director Angela McCaughan.
“A lot of the people who stay with us are banned from other shelters, mainly because of mental health or behavioral issues. So they can’t go anywhere else,” she said.
Sscope began leasing the 50,000 square foot space to Assiniboine Credit Union in August 2020, under an agreement that the charity would buy it after one year.
The credit union took control of the building after Neechi Commons closed five years earlier, in financial trouble. The space was largely empty until Sscope moved in.
McCaughan said Sscope has until the end of the month to purchase the building. They had hoped that the province would come and fund it, but did not.
âThe provincial government is responsible for housing. He must help us house these people, âshe said.
Sscope can make the mortgage payments, McCaughan said, but needs $ 1.3 million for a down payment and renovations. The group has launched an online campaign to raise $ 100,000 from the public.
âWe are not looking for long term funding because we are a sustainable social enterprise,â she said, adding that the people who live in the accommodation also get jobs to help run the facility.
Sscope also has other businesses in the community, doing lawn work and collecting recyclables.
McCaughan says the model gives a boost to those suffering from drug addiction and homelessness.
âPeople just need a chance, and they need a purpose, and they need guidance and relationships,â she said.
This was the case for Peter Astakeesic. Two months ago, the 51-year-old Sautaux man from Waywayseecappo First Nation was addicted to methamphetamine.
Now he has a room and a job, and is starting an addiction counselor training – all thanks to Sscope, he says.
“Everything has just fallen into place”
âI was just an addict like a lot of other people who come here,â he said. “It straightened me up and got me going in the right direction.”
He helps with cleaning, cooking and laundry at Sscope.
“I came here. Everything fell into place. And everything got better day by day,” he said. “I have come a long way in a short time.”
Astakeesic has said that if he hadn’t entered Sscope, he is not sure what would have happened to him.
âMaybe I was dead,â he said. “I’m just happy to be here right now.”
In the last year of the pandemic, Sscope has kept its doors open while other organizations have closed theirs, McCaughan said.
âDuring the pandemic, the city of Winnipeg [and] the province has abandoned these people. They have closed their doors to everything. We are the only public toilets for miles around, âshe said.
The provincial government has said it pays Sscope $ 589 per month for each housed person who receives social assistance. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority also gives Sccope just over $ 100,000 per year for an employment program.
A spokesperson for the provincial government said Sscope should seek funding through the federal government, but McCaughan said the federal government told him housing was primarily a provincial responsibility.
Kris Clemens of End Homelessness Winnipeg said she was not surprised that Sscope was facing difficulties in obtaining the money to purchase the building.
“When you’re in a local organization that really focuses on the person you serve and runs a 24-hour operation, providing a safe space for people during a pandemic, it’s no surprise that some of those hoops to jump through can seem too expensive and difficult, âshe said.
There are few organizations in the province that have stable funding for their day-to-day operations and for larger projects like buying or building homes, Clemens said. The process of applying for money often takes years and can involve working through multiple levels of bureaucracy, she said.
âThat’s part of why it’s so remarkable that an agency like Sscope can grow so quickly and take hold in a big space like it did last year,â she said.