Inner City Diary
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Wasted development funds and "resource centres"
February 16, 2003
Sometimes the way a person helps someone reveals much about the way they see that person.

Some helpers see the “helpee” as an equal and help in a respectful, non-intrusive manner. Alternately, the helper might see the “helpee” as a hapless incompetent who is hopeless if left to his own devices. The same is true of the ways that people help “needy” neighbourhoods.

Three levels of government recently prophesied the reincarnation of another “Winnipeg Development Agreement,” a multi-million dollar pot of government funding.

Resentful taxpayers commented, “If we haven't fixed inner-city problems with the last hundreds of millions of dollars, this won't be any different. What a waste!” They have a point. Throwing money at the inner city can be like throwing money at a junkie. Sometimes money will perpetuate and not alleviate problems.

Social agencies and government departments, however, are thrilled with the news. Like a junkie anticipating a rush. Like someone who’s almost more needy than the people they’re helping. Many are hurting from budget cuts. Some of the workers are overworked and totally stressed out. Millions designated to communities will probably be used to offset budget cuts to salaries and programs of government departments and social agencies.

I wonder how much of what's supposed to come to the community will actually reach the streets. And when it does, will it be wasted?

Often, 15 - 25 percent of funding like this goes to administration. And it's usually government folk paying themselves to deliver the funding. That's like a person taking money out of one their pockets, putting it back in another of their pockets and pretending they gave it to us. Does that seem strange to you too?

Of the remaining 75%, much goes to priorities and projects determined by bureaucrats even before the funding is announced and the community is “consulted.” Community consultations are usually staged to find compliant citizens to show “community support” for what agencies, social workers and government departments have already figured is best for us.

Those folks seem fixated on “resource centers” as the way to cure our ills. Their concept usually constructs a place from which a few paid social workers can do referrals, have meetings, serve free coffee and hand out brochures.

I’m already hearing the buzz about new resource centres for our neighbourhood. Apparently we “need” a resource centre for poor people, one for unhealthy people, one just for youth, one just for parents with young kids, and one just for housing. Others are lining up support for a separate women's resource centre, and a separate native resource centre because “it's important for everyone to have their own thing.”

All this in a neighbourhood that measures 4 blocks by 9 blocks.

And that doesn't include the groups and agencies in, or within blocks of, our neighbourhood:

       36 Community and Social Services
       15 Cultural Centres
       10 Daycares
       10 Schools
       10 Recreational Facilities
         5 Health Facilities and 2 Hospitals
       16 Churches

Still, homes are crumbling. Businesses are struggling. Children are wandering. Parents are losing it. Seniors are scared.

For 20 years, I’ve watched experts “revitalize” my community. More money for new un-sustainable programs and workers is not the answer. It’s downright offensive to burn more cash on more non-sustainable “resource centres” in un-sustainable buildings.

We must be one of the most resourced neighbourhoods in the city. Are people in my neighbourhood so stupid that we can't find the resources already in our midst? Are we so helpless that we need more agencies and workers to tie our shoes and raise our children? Are we so hapless that we couldn't find existing partners and spaces to deliver existing resources?

If we can't do better with what we've got, more won’t help us. Especially if it’s delivered in the same old way.

During the last Winnipeg Development Agreement, something different happened. A diverse group of residents and business owners organized themselves before the city-salaried professional organizers could get organized enough to organize us.

We fought against “resource centres” and administrative waste. We showed the “developers” that we could develop our own capacity if they would just back off a bit. To their credit, they cut us some slack. Money fixed up housing and installed lights to brighten up area homes. Money went to kickstart sustainable and cost-effective community initiatives.

But we knew we were bucking the system. Tired of fighting, we were pushed out of the way, replaced by a “development” agency with paid staff whose needs and obligations will make them part of the same old unsustainable system of helping.

The way people help us says much about how they really feel about us.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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