Tricia Hercina, social planning manager for the City of Red Deer. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Red Deer’s ‘Shoestring Warehouse’ to wean itself off government grants

Charity that provides furniture for former homeless people intent on self-sufficiency

A program that provides low-cost furniture to Red Deerians who are transitioning from homelessness to permanent housing will look at ways to become more self-sufficient.

Red Deer city council unanimously approved up to $50,000 so a consultant can be hired to recommend how Shoestring Warehouse can get off government grants by developing a business plan to transition into a social enterprise.

Sandi Chalmers, chair of the Community Housing Advisory Board, told council that the warehouse in north Red Deer is run by the Central Alberta Women’s Outreach for clients referred by various local agencies.

Since the beginning of 2017, the program has received $120,000 annually from the provincial government.

In 2017 and 2018, the warehouse supported 687 clients who received some provincial funds for the purchase of furniture, housekeeping and kitchen items.

Council heard the Shoestring Warehouse generated revenues of $80,800 over the past year and racked up $164,100 in expenses. While the revenues subsidize operations, it’s hoped that a new operational model can be introduced to make the service less dependent on grants in future, said Chalmers.

Council was told there are several similar donated furniture operations in Ontario that are self-funded. The consultant will study these and other social enterprises and suggest various changes.

Tricia Hercina, social planning manager for the City of Red Deer, said there are a variety of ways that more revenues can be generated, including by using more volunteers rather than paid staff.

Other social enterprises, such as Habitat for Humanity, sell reusable items to the general public to raise money for their operations. The Salvation Army also runs thrift stores.

Coun. Vesna Higham suggested that “up to” $50,000 be added to the motion requesting the money needed for the development of a business plan, and it was accepted unanimously by council.

Several councillors stated their support for the operation becoming less reliant on grants.

Coun. Ken Johnston said even the city faces uncertainty these days around government funding, “so I can only imagine what non-profits face… I am quite excited about what this (business) plan can do.”

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