Victim services program revamped

by Phil Ambroziak

After close to two decades, a program designed to address the needs of individuals and families in crisis is about to become a victim of government restructuring.

That’s how staff and volunteers with Northwest Regional Victim Services feel about the group’s impending shutdown Oct. 31, a move government officials claim is simply part of a bigger plan to streamline the service throughout the province.

“We were notified about the closure in mid-June and have already stopped taking on new clients and referrals,” explained program coordinator Shawna Lumgair.

Efforts to launch a victim services program in the Northwest through a partnership with the provincial Ministry of Justice and the RCMP originated in the 1980s. It wasn’t until June 20, 1996, however, when volunteers finally assisted their first client. In the 18 years since, Lumgair said the program has helped thousands of people from the Meadow Lake, Green Lake, Loon Lake, St. Walburg and Pierceland areas to cope with the fallout of traumatic events.

“This is definitely a loss for these communities,” Lumgair continued. “One of the things we do is crisis response. When there’s a fire, car crash or a sudden death in the middle of the night or at any time, it’s been reassuring for a lot of people to know a resource like ours was available.”

In spite of how Lumgair and others may feel about the news, Dwight Lawrence – acting director of the victim services branch of the Ministry of Justice – said residents of Saskatchewan’s Northwest will still be able to access the program once its delivery has been restructured to include a larger coverage area. He confirmed the local service, which operates out of the Meadow Lake RCMP detachment, would indeed close at the end of next month, but added the shutdown is actually part of a province-wide expansion.

“We’re creating a larger model that will allow for centralized administration, greater efficiency and for only one board of directors to oversee a larger region,” Lawrence said. “It will also allow everyone to work as part of a larger team. Yes, the current program is winding down, but once the new program is up and running there will be a new board of directors in place, volunteers and staff will be hired and the same services will continue. It’s the same model, only for a larger region.”

According to Lumgair, the current program is expected to join with a similar service in Prince Albert and operate out of that city.

“They’re going to make a larger program out of these two smaller programs,” she said. “My role has been to oversee the local program while the majority of the work itself was done recently by our four volunteers. I will definitely have to look for other employment. I love my job, what the program stands for and what it does for people, so I’d like to find some kind of work where I’m still able to help others.”

Among those also to voice displeasure about the change is Athabasca NDP MLA Buckley Belanger. He said, no matter what the government calls it, shutting down Northwest Regional Victim Services is not good news.

“The net effect is Meadow Lake and other area communities will be without this service,” Belanger said. “As an Opposition member, I always remain skeptical of the government and my perspective is how can one really monitor any information concerning this restructuring? It’s typical of the government to cut programs and to disguise it by saying it’s reorganizing them.”


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