Kelowna women’s centre closes doors for last time

Wednesday evening Mayor Sharon Shepherd was among those celebrating the many years of service Micki Smith, the sole employee of the Kelowna Women
Wednesday evening Mayor Sharon Shepherd was among those celebrating the many years of service Micki Smith, the sole employee of the Kelowna Women's Resource Centre, and the dedicated band of volunteers who kept the doors open gave to the community; Smith called it the celebration after the funeral.
— image credit: Jennifer Smith

“The centre means so much to me because it gave me my voice,” said Micki Smith as she reflected on this week’s closing of the Women’s Resource Centre.

Running the centre has been Smith’s vocation—her job, her hobby, her main activity morning, noon and night, even on weekends—for 20 years.

“Last weekend, I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Usually on weekends I’m researching different funding opportunities and finishing paperwork.”

Smith was a single-mother on income assistance when the centre finally found the funding for a full-time employee. She was already an avid volunteer, having done a practicum there for an Okanagan College office administration course and soon found herself in an administrative position that required the patience of a counsellor, the resourcefulness of a social worker and the legal acumen of one who knows and understands the law.

Asked where the gaps in services will be with the KWRC gone, Smith figured there are likely too many to know at this point. It will likely be the simple things, the free tax service, the books on divorce proceedings that came in multiple languages, the patient ear to help women talk through difficult decisions, that will not be replaced.

“I just had a woman pick up her taxes who this was her first year she couldn’t afford it. Last year she was on income assistance, but this year she needed to file and H&R Block told her it would cost $80 and she wouldn’t be getting much of a return,” said Smith.

Wednesday afternoon a sendoff for the centre saw the tiny room packed with local service providers, the mayor, volunteers, board members, local activists and supporters.

Earlier in the day the closure was raised by NDP MLA Michelle Mungall in the legislature.

The brief skirmish failed to elicit much response on whether the new Liberal government supports women’s centres.

Hansard transcripts showed Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development Ida Chong simply noted an independent judge will be reviewing the government’s decision making on the gaming grants, which could have kept the KWRC doors open.

The centre had been housing HOPE Outreach, an organization which sees volunteers check on women on the streets each night to ensure they have access to basic necessities—food, toiletries, a safe place to stay, bathe and so forth.

The group will move to Metro Church where it will continue to operate.

For now, Smith says she is optimistic about her own future possibilities and is concentrating on breaking down the current facility.

There will be a garage sale on May 14 and she is trying to ensure the years of resources—books, computers, and so forth—wind up in a place where they will do the most service.

“It’s one of those things where you kind of see the writing on the wall, but I kind of still felt blindsided when the board informed me of the decision to close,” she said.



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