Restorative Justice Victoria fears it may have to turn cases away due to funding shortfalls.
The organization, which also serves Oak Bay, learned in March that an application for funding through United Way of Greater Victoria was not approved and a three-year commitment of $25,000 per year had ended.
“Unfortunately this year we experienced the loss of one of our more significant multi-year funders. This $25,000 loss represented one-quarter of our budget. This would have been devastating to our organization had we not received an unexpected and extremely generous donation,” said executive director Jessica Rourke. “Loss of a significant funder as well as increases in overhead costs and a rising case load means that we desperately need a more stable source of funding.”
A part of the United Way approach to funding is to ensure all agencies are stable when they’re funded, so when funding ends, they should remain stable.
“Policy [is] to never fund beyond 30 per cent of an agency’s revenue so no agency should find themselves in any difficulty when our funding commitment is completed,” said Lee Anne Davies, director of community investment for United Way Greater Victoria.
“That’s important to us United Way wants to ensure the community is getting all of the services they need.”
At the United Way, she explained, decisions are made by engaging experts in the community, running the gamut from housing to employment to trauma.
“Those experts sit at the table with us and talk about every application that comes in to us … there will never be enough money, but we do ensure we can meet the greatest needs as best we can,” Davies said. “Every dollar we raise is so respected and really considered in great thoroughness as far as what the needs of the community are.”
Restorative justice offers alternative measures to handle a criminal offence in the community, outside of court, in addition to a trial, or during or after a period of incarceration. Forms of restorative justice include community accountability dialogues, victim-offender mediation, peacemaking/healing circles and hybrid models.
Core funding comes via the Gaming Commission, frozen for a number of years at $46,000 despite a rising case load. Restorative Justice Victoria receives $17,000 in municipal funding from Victoria and Esquimalt through the police budget and $1,000 from Oak Bay.
Assessing whether there’s a decline in funding is a challenge, Rourke said. The organization frequently secures one-time, non-renewable grants or donations designated toward specific projects rather than staff hours.
“What can be said, is that each year our funding does not match our needs,” she said. “Our purpose is to bring together victims, offenders, and members of the larger community to promote healing and reparation after the harmful effects of a crime. Without adequate funding to devote toward handling cases, the community suffers.”
Last year RJV did a recidivism study with the Victoria Police Department that showed a 13 per cent recidivism rate amongst offenders who went through restorative justice. Rourke says the Victoria and Oak Bay police departments as well as Victoria and Westshore Crown Counsel value the services restorative justice offers.
“Each year we are seeing significant growth in the number of cases referred to us as well as the complexity of the cases referred. In our opinion, more cases means more healing in the community, however, increasing case load and complexity demands more staff hours,” Rourke said. “Our current budget has left us understaffed and staff burnout is becoming a pervasive issue. If our budget does not increase, we will have to start turning cases and clients away.”
The fear of having to turn away cases due to increasing demands on thinly stretched staff, fewer volunteers, and an inability to grow volunteer skillsets affects both Victoria and Oak Bay communities.
“Filling our funding gap is one of our main priorities … We are exploring every funding opportunity that we come across, however we often hear from funders that they believe the municipality or provincial government should be the ones funding our program,” Rourke said. “We are also working toward entering discussions with the provincial government around this debate … Although one-time grants and personal donations are always extremely welcome and appreciated, what we need is stable operational funding so that we are in a position to respond to the increasing demands from police and crown.”
Learn more about the organization at rjvictoria.wordpress.com online.