Winnipeg charities, non-profits face financial strain from COVID-19

By | March 30, 2020

The local charity and non-profit agencies that serve Winnipeg’s most vulnerable populations and lowest income residents are feeling the impact of the financial uncertainty during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have significantly felt it already within just really one week,” said Michelle Pereira, vice-president of marketing, communications and philanthropy at Habitat for Humanity Manitoba.

“We went to the mail this week and there were no donations, which is unheard of. We had no online donations, which is unheard of.”

Pereira says Habitat for Humanity Manitoba has had to make some tough fiscal decisions amidst all the uncertainty, and that included laying off two part-time workers from Habitat’s ReStores.

Habitat for Humanity Manitoba has had to close its ReStores in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, vice-president of marketing, communications and philanthropy Michelle Pereira said. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

“We’ve had to close all three ReStores, which is big income for us. Fundraising has come to a complete halt.”

Spring is an important time for Habitat for Humanity Manitoba, Pereira said. The organization’s big fundraisers kick off when the weather starts to warm up, and so does construction on its homes.

“We know we’ll build less houses this year,” Pereira said. “We really don’t understand what the depth of the impact will be because it’s just at the beginning.”

The construction of their homes is mostly done through groups of volunteers from various corporations, and with the impact of the virus on businesses, Pereira fully expects there will be delays in the construction of houses.

Making some tough decisions

Lynne Scott, the executive director of Craig Street Cats, said regular donors to her organization have already started dropping off. Scott said she’s seen an approximately 90 percent drop in financial support from the public.

“People are cancelling their monthly donations. The incidental donations that tend to come in in support of a particular cat have stopped coming in.”

The lack of donations is threatening her operation, including how she’s going to come up with the money for her lease, and where to house the 140 cats at the rescue shelter right now, Scott said.

Craig Street Cats executive director Lynne Scott holds an orphaned kitten. The organization is trying to place the cats in its care into homes, but for some of the cats, ‘placing them will be very difficult,’ Scott said. (Brett Purdy)

“Our lease expires at the end of April and before all of this COVID-19 started, we had renegotiated a very fair lease. Unfortunately that renegotiation does not reflect the world as it is today, and our landlord is not prepared to enter into any renegotiation at this time.”

Scott now has to come up with a plan if the organization isn’t able to raise enough funds, and it includes some very tough choices.

“We will spend all of April trying to place the cats in the best homes possible. Some of the cats that we care for are not adoptable, so placing them will be very difficult.”

A ripple effect on the country

Imagine Canada is an organization that represents thousands of Canadian charities and non-profit groups. Bruce MacDonald, Organization CEO and president, said Canadian charities face losing billions of dollars in funds in just three months of social distancing.

“We have a very real concern that, without a major infusion of funds to help charities weather the storm, the sector is in real danger of going dark.”

Bruce MacDonald, CEO of Imagine Canada, says without an infusion of money, the charity sector ‘is in real danger of going dark.’ (Submitted Imagine Canada)

Imagine Canada’s projections show charities across the country could lay off more than 117,000 employees and lose $9.5 billion in 2020, MacDonald said, and that’s a lot of money to lose for a sector that doesn’t have a lot of capital to begin with.

“When we start to look at this crisis, this is going to become a crisis of cash and affecting the ability of organizations to actually continue to operate it at a time when Canadians need it the most,” he said.

Imagine Canada is currently in talks with the Federal government to get emergency funding and stabilization funds for charities and non-profit organizations, MacDonald said.

“When you think about charities and non-profits in our country, I mean they are on the frontlines of delivering services in some cases to the most vulnerable populations.”

While they’re waiting to hear from Ottawa, MacDonald’s making the plea to Canadians to do their part to make sure everyone gets through this pandemic.

“Beyond meaningful government supports to get us through the next few months, donations, however big or small, from individuals, corporations and foundations are urgently needed,” MacDonald said. “We are all in this together.”

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