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Winnipeg will finally establish a 24/7 shelter for Indigenous women and gender-diverse people thanks to funding from the federal Ministry of Indigenous Affairs. It’s a victory for community advocates who have been working for decades on the project.

Velma’s House, as the shelter will be called, will be run by Ka Ni Kanichihk, an Indigenous service provider, which can now hire at least 10 staff members, project manager Amy Graham said in an interview.

Velma’s House first opened in 2021 after receiving startup funding. But the new cash — $6.9 million over four years — will allow it to move to a new location and operate 24 hours a day, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said in an interview.

Much of the advocacy work that mounted the successful push for a 24-hour shelter was done by survivors who knew first-hand the need for the space in the community, Graham said.

It’s been an emotional journey for many of those advocates, who after working towards this moment for years feel that it was “about time,” Graham said.

“It’s so needed,” she added.

Velma’s House expansion to 24-hour service will save lives, said Leah Gazan, NDP critic for Women and Gender Equality and an MP for Winnipeg Centre.

Last spring, Gazan asked the government how much had been spent of the $742 million allocated for preventing violence against Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse peoples. Only two per cent, or $12.6 million, had been spent.

Velma’s House has been pushing for more money to allow it to operate day and night since the fall of 2021, but the funding wasn’t approved until now.

Velma’s House, as the shelter will be called, will be run by Ka Ni Kanichihk, an Indigenous service provider, which can now hire at least 10 staff members, project manager Amy Graham says.

Many of the women who visit Velma’s House experience gender-based violence, some every day, Graham said. After 4:30 p.m., once all the resources shut down, many have to return to places that aren’t safe.

“Better is always possible,” Hajdu said when asked about the criticism around how fast funding was getting out the door.

Velma’s House could move to the new space and expand operating hours in as little as two weeks — or as soon as possible, Graham said.

“The expansion ensures that there’s always a space,” she said.

Matteo Cimellaro / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer