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Privacy dispute threatens Street Link -- Victoria, BC

Ytzhak | 16.11.2003 21:09 | Health | Repression | Social Struggles | World

Government holds up funding after society refuses to name homeless clients

Victoria Independent Media Center
Original article is at

Privacy dispute threatens Street Link
by Lindsay Kines, Judith Lavoie - Times Colonist •Sunday November 16, 2003 at 02:04 AM
Government holds up funding after society refuses to name homeless clients

The B.C. government withheld money from Victoria's largest emergency shelter last month for failing to hand over personal information
on the homeless.

The Ministry of Human Resources later released the money, but said it will make further payments only if the Victoria Cool Aid Society
provides detailed "person reports" about its clients -- names, dates of birth, dates when they entered and left the shelter and number of
nights stayed.

Carol Finnie, Cool Aid's chief executive officer, said the society is worried about violating their clients' privacy and has contacted B.C.'s
privacy commissioner for advice. The society was told to get the ministry's reasons for wanting the information, but the ministry has yet
to respond, Finnie said.

A clause in the society's contract requires Cool Aid to produce the reports. But Finnie said the ministry has never asked for them before,
and the shelters have never produced them.

Cool Aid, which has operated for 35 years, runs the 16-bed Sandy Merriman House for women and the 55-bed Streetlink Emergency

The society has always produced statistical reports on occupancy rates, number of beds used and number of people served, Finnie said.

"We've never given them personal information on our clients before."

Human Resources Minister Murray Coell said the ministry needs personal information about Cool Aid's clients so staff can verify that the
hostel and money are being used appropriately.

Coell would not explain why the ministry cannot work with the more general data that it has used in the past, but said Cool Aid has
agreed to supply the information on clients.

"They have a contract with us to provide that information. They agreed to it and signed it," he said.

Finnie said the ministry withheld payment of $116,000 to Cool Aid's Streetlink and Sandy Merriman shelters last month. The society was
never told and only discovered the missing money by examining its cash flow.

In a strongly worded letter to the ministry, Finnie and shelters manager Don McTavish protested the suspended payment as
"unwarranted" and accused the ministry of "operating in bad faith."

The letter states that a ministry official "advised that the Cool Aid Society will not receive funds for shelter operations until we produce
the personal information on our clients

"This is not working with us in good faith to resolve our difficulties," the letter says. "There are privacy issues to be addressed."

The letter states that Cool Aid has referred the matter to its legal counsel.

A 17-year-old homeless girl, who was camped outside the Streetlink shelter Saturday, said the government has no right gathering personal
information on her or other homeless people. "I don't think it's really any of their business," she said,

The girl, who would only identify herself by her street name, Candy, said she has been on the street for a year, fleeing abuse, and living on
money earned panhandling. She says she can't get welfare, can't find a job because she has no place to live, and can't find a place to live
because she has no income. "This is the only place left."

Her friend, who goes by the name Angel, also questioned why the government needs to know his name or age, which, he fears, would
allow them to delve into his family history. "They don't need to know that. Why?"

The two viewed the latest tactic as one more attack on the poor. "I say send some of the government people down here for a week and
see how they handle it," Candy said.

Finnie said it's not the first time the government has stopped payments to the shelters in the past 12 months.

Finnie said the society discovered in October that the government withheld $131,000 slated for Sandy Merriman House in July and
August and only paid the money in September.

She said the stopped payments appear to be part of a larger pattern of harassment by the government at a time when agencies should be
working together to fight homelessness.

"The numbers are increasing," Finnie said. Streetlink currently runs at 100 per cent capacity and turns away 25 to 30 people a night.

In addition to the stopped payments, Finnie said the comptroller general recently called on short notice to audit the shelters. In the letter to
the ministry, McTavish and Finnie state that "while we have welcomed the auditors and will co-operate with them, I would have preferred
receiving communications from the ministry previous to them contacting us."

Earlier this year, Finnie says Cool Aid was forced to issue layoff notices to shelter staff, because the ministry refused to confirm whether
money would be available in June.

And Finnie said Cool Aid knew nothing about the government's recent decision to give $18,000 to the Salvation Army to open five new
beds for Victoria's homeless.

"We feel like we're being not only cut out of the process around discussions on how the government wants to address homelessness, but
also they're not paying us on a regular basis, so we are footing the bill."

When asked whether the government is harassing Cool Aid, Coell replied "No, certainly not."

However, Coell said ministry staff have been asked to work directly with Cool Aid as the organization is recovering from financial

Coell said some of the funding issues arise because Cool Aid is not applying for funding, even though it has been approved in the budget.
"They actually need to ask for the funding . . . and they need to work with our staff as other shelters are doing throughout the province,"
he said.

The hiccups in funding for Sandy Merriman House originated with Cool Aid, he said. "We are committed to funding Sandy Merriman
House. The funds are in our budget and they just need to apply for them."

Similarly, Cool Aid did not apply for the recent grant which went to the Salvation Army, he said.

Cool Aid should have known that it could apply for the cold, wet weather grants as the strategy has been in place for a number of years,
Coell said.

"They need to apply for the grants and I don't believe they have. I have actually requested that my staff phone them directly, at the
assistant deputy minister level, to get the information they need to them."

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