Osborne House’s actions dangerous, disappointing, other shelter leaders say

‘The most dangerous time for a woman is when she actually makes the decision to leave’

CBC News Posted: Dec 09, 2016 10:52 AM CT Last Updated: Dec 09, 2016 10:52 AM CT

A former shelter in Winnipeg could be causing harm to women at risk, says Lise Martin, the executive director of the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses.

A former shelter in Winnipeg could be causing harm to women at risk, says Lise Martin, the executive director of the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses.

A former shelter in Winnipeg that’s being investigated by the Canada Revenue Agency could also be causing harm to women at risk, say the leaders of a national women’s shelter network and another local shelter.

Women seeking shelter services are often in a “dire situation” and if they look for those services at Osborne House in Winnipeg, there could be “harmful consequences,” said Lise Martin, executive director of the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses.

Osborne House closed its doors in April 2015 after the province severed its ties with the shelter following a prolonged investigation that raised concerns about its operations and financial records.

However, Osborne House Inc. had more than $500,000 in assets, according to its latest tax returns, and continues to accept donations. The Canada Revenue Agency has opened an investigation into the former shelter.

Officials with Osborne House Inc. have not responded to repeated requests for interviews.

While the women’s shelter does not physically exist anymore, they have a Facebook page and a phone line, which leads to a voice message advising callers in crisis to call the number for Willow Place, the provincially funded shelter that replaced Osborne House. Willow Place has no association with Osborne House Inc.

“The most dangerous time for a woman is when she actually makes the decision to leave. So therefore if she’s seeking shelter services … it’s often the women who are the most marginalized,” Martin said.

If that woman reaches a message sending her elsewhere, she may get discouraged.

“It often takes a lot of courage to make that first phone call,” Martin said.

Osborne House is also still accepting donations and has a storage facility that holds everything from clothing to diapers — items that are badly needed by women and children throughout in the province, said Trudy Lavallee, executive director of Ikwe Widdjiitiwin shelter in Winnipeg.

“I can tell you right now that as of today, every day, we have women and children coming into our shelter and nine other shelters in Manitoba who come here without certain types of items, like winter boots, coats, things especially right now with this weather,” Lavallee said.

“If this warehouse right now is holding these types of donations, we’re not getting access to those donations to be able to provide to our clients. Now I’m really concerned. As of even yesterday I had a woman come in and she had no winter boots.”

Lavallee said she wants to see those items distributed among other shelters in the province to make sure they get to those who need them.

Martin said Osborne House is the exception among more than 450 shelters across the country.

“They are helping thousands of women and children each day,” she said.

Last year, the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses launched an online tool that lists all of the shelters across the country.

“It has their 24/7 phone numbers, their website and the name of the shelter, and we do an annual verification to ensure that no changes have been made to the information, that women can still seek the shelter,” Martin said.

She added that when the online tool launched, Osborne House was not included and “is obviously not at this time as well.”

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