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Nearly 200 people left without long-term counselling, after VSAC cuts back services in February

Decision comes amid budget challenges, focus on crisis counselling services

By Brishti Basu
August 2, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Nearly 200 people left without long-term counselling, after VSAC cuts back services in February

Decision comes amid budget challenges, focus on crisis counselling services

By Brishti Basu
Aug 2, 2022
Victoria Sexual Assault Centre executive director Elijah Zimmerman speaks at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2021. Photo: VSAC / Facebook.
Victoria Sexual Assault Centre executive director Elijah Zimmerman speaks at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2021. Photo: VSAC / Facebook.
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Nearly 200 people left without long-term counselling, after VSAC cuts back services in February

Decision comes amid budget challenges, focus on crisis counselling services

By Brishti Basu
August 2, 2022
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Nearly 200 people left without long-term counselling, after VSAC cuts back services in February
Victoria Sexual Assault Centre executive director Elijah Zimmerman speaks at the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2021. Photo: VSAC / Facebook.

There were nearly 200 people on the waitlist for long-term counselling services at the Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) when they phased out the service in February this year. 

VSAC is the only organization in the South Island region—south of the Malahat—that offers comprehensive services sexual assault survivors.

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Back in February, VSAC announced it would be suspending its long-term counselling services, due to growing waitlists and a “steady increase in the need for crisis support.” We covered the changes—and what it meant for the region’s mental healthcare gap—on the Capital Daily Podcast.

Elijah Zimmerman, Executive Director of VSAC, told Capital Daily that after they made the decision to eliminate long-term counselling services, the organization contacted each of the 200 affected people both over email and over the phone to inform them of other options for community counselling and connect them with support.

“For folks with higher need, instead of keeping them on a long term waitlist, we moved them to the crisis counselling, so they could be seen faster,” Zimmerman said. He clarified that this does not replace their need for access to long-term counselling services.

Sam Loppie, VSAC’s direct client services manager, told us that suspending the long-term counselling came after “some very hard looks” at the nonprofit’s service model and what it could sustain.

Faster support

Survivors who were in need of immediate crisis counselling services were having to wait up to four months to hear back. Now, Zimmerman says, the average wait time is one week. 

“Putting our focus on crisis counselling has enabled us to see people faster when they need our support,” he said.

On Monday, Federal minister Marci Ien, Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth of Canada, paid a visit to VSAC, calling its services “one-of-a-kind,” and praising its trauma-informed approach. 

But only a small percentage of the operating budget at VSAC—which amounts to about $490,000 for the past three years—is guaranteed, as it comes directly from the province, according to Zimmerman. 

“Our only stable, committed funding per year is 35%, so that other 65%, we have to figure it out every year,” he said. The rest of the money comes from fundraising and grants that the organization has to apply for each year. 

The province announced in March that it would provide more than $10M per year in funding for community-based services for sexual assault survivors. Public safety minister Mike Farnworth called it a reversal of funding cuts from 2002. Zimmerman said this money will be distributed in April 2023, and there is no information yet on how much will be allocated to VSAC. 

Zimmerman says the organization would need double the resources they currently have if they wanted to keep offering both long-term counselling and crisis counselling in a timely manner.

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