By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — An Indigenous-led safe space for sexually exploited women and girls is expecting to expand its reach in Winnipeg with funds from the federal government.
Ottawa says nearly $7 million is to help with operating costs at Velma’s House.
Patty Hajdu, the federal minister of Indigenous Services, says the money should allow the organization to increase its capacity and deliver culturally appropriate programs.
Part of the money is also to go toward purchasing a new building, so the group can offer ceremonies, counselling and meals to more people.
The home opened in the spring of 2021 and has since outgrown its current location.
Dodie Jordaan, executive director of Ka Ni Kanichihk, which oversees Velma’s House, says the new location is expected to open by the end of the year.
“The space was so small. So many women were sleeping on the porch and laying in the grass and waiting to take turns to come in,” she said Monday.
“It was critical that we found a larger space in a space that was much more inviting and able to meet the needs of the women around.”
Staff said it’s the only low-barrier place in Winnipeg offering supports for women who have been sexually exploited.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls called for governments to fund Indigenous-centred and community-based health and wellness services.
Hajdu said money given to Velma’s House is part of the federal government’s plan to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people.
“The work that (Ka Ni Kanichihk) does is not just a nice to have, this is the core of a community. This is the foundation of a community where people feel that they have a place to go to when bad things happen,” she said.
A total of $4 million is to go toward operating costs to 2026.
Jordaan said the funding should allow the space to operate 24 hours a day and provide resources for up to 60 people at a time. The previous space allowed up to 10 people at a time.