Victim Services needs help to meet growing demand

Chris Clegg
Richard Froese
South Peace News

High Prairie and District Victim Services needs financial help to deal with an ever-increasing workload and they want local municipalities to help.
A delegation from the organization comprised of chairperson Jennifer Zatko and executive director Sandra Bembridge attended the Town of High Prairie’s meeting Nov. 9 and Big Lakes County meeting Nov. 10 to inform both councils of the need.
“I know it’s a big ask,” Zatko told town council.
“Victim Services need help.”
Victim Services is asking the councils to “work together to find a way to subsidize [Victim Services] with a yearly grant of $25,000” minus any other potential money received from First Nations and Metis Settlement councils.
In their letter, the organization explained the heavy caseload and need for a part-time case worker to cover the demand.
“We are in desperate need for a third case worker,” Zatko told Big Lakes County.
“The need for another case worker has never been more urgent.”
Current drug problems, mixed with the high level of domestic violence and sexual assault against children and youth, are all contributing to a heavier caseload.
To worsen matters, local demand keeps climbing, Victim Services’ letter read. The High Prairie office had 562 open files on Oct 25. It is half the number of the Peace River Victim Services Unit that has double the staff than High Prairie. Statistics show that at the end of 2019, the High Prairie service had 249 open files which grew to 409 files at the end of 2021.
“We’d like to continue to offer this support for our communities,” Bembridge told town council.
“It’s a service that we need in High Prairie,” added Zatko.
“It’s something that’s desperately needed for our town.”
Both councils applauded the efforts of Victim Services, which has operated in High Prairie for 25 years.
“I was part of this group since its inception,” said Town of High Prairie Councillor Donna Deynaka.
“You see people at their worst. . .rape, homicide, car accidents. . .It has value and I still believe it has value.
“Hopefully, we can work with the County. . .and meet your ask. I would really like to see council help this organization. It’s a huge ask but it’s a valuable service,” Deynaka concluded.
Town Councillor James Waikle agreed council needed to partner with Big Lakes County, adding later that “many hands make light work”.
“Did you ask First Nations?” he asked.
“Not yet,” replied Zatko.
It is my plan to do that.”
Council forwarded the request to budget debate. They also suggested perhaps to lobby the government for increased support.
Meanwhile, Big Lakes County CAO Jordan Panasiuk said the request would be discussed by the inter-municipal committee although no date for the next meeting was confirmed.
Reeve Robert Nygaard added he knows the value in the program as a longtime volunteer for Big Lakes County Fire Services in the Faust district.
“Being on the fire department, I understand the importance of victim assistance,” said Nygaard.
Program manager Sandra Bembridge told county council the local unit is seeing more victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
She added the Town of Peace River and Northern Sunrise County provide money to Peace River Victim Services.
Annual funding from the solicitor general is capped at $150,000 a year for the High Prairie program.
“As a victim services program, we are unable to access any additional funds from the province as the limit is set,” Zatko says.
Both councils heard the request will be an annual grant until the Alberta solicitor general raises their contribution.
Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk noted the financial burden.
“Money is tight. We’ll really have to look at that.”

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