Stepping Stone has lost its rock.
Yesterday afternoon, Rene Ross announced she was no longer working as executive director of the non-profit organization that provides support to current and former sex workers.
“As many of you know, there have been significant challenges with funding that began last September and hopes for other funding did not come through,” Ross wrote in a public Facebook post Monday.
Stepping Stone’s remaining staff are delivering critical programs, she said, which “must be protected at all costs.”
“I am hopeful that the savings the organization will accumulate by eliminating the [executive director] position will allow the staff to carry on with their crucial work,” Ross wrote.
“I will continue to support the staff and program users and will provide any support required by the board in this challenging time.”
At the launch of the annual Sexual Assault Awarness Month on May 3 and in the wake of Rehtaeh Parsons’ death, the province announced $900,000 would be available to organizations like Stepping Stone. In response, Ross told reporters the non-profit needed reliable funding—not only funding as a result of tragedy.
Ross declined the Halifax Media Co-op’s request for an interview yesterday.
According to Stepping Stone’s financial records, funding from all levels of government has been erratic over the last decade.
In 2009, the same year Tanya Jean Brooks was murdered, Stepping Stone received generous grants from all levels of government. In recent years, however, funding has declined.
“[Violence against women] has been a provincial crisis that has been growing for many, many years, and community organizations and workers on the front line have been telling politicians and decision-makers this for years,” Ross said at Province House on May 3.
“We know that we need funding, but we are also the ones who are cornering ministers in the washroom and asking for that increased funding,” she said.
Ross became executive director of Stepping Stone in 2008.
In a 2010 interview, Ross told War Child Canada she joined the non-profit after reading an ad in the paper. Prior to joining the organization as a board member, she interned in Bosnia and Croatia, and at the United Nations in Geneva.
“I didn’t know the first thing about prostitution but I knew that after coming back from the UN and working in live minefields and being threatened with axes in Croatia, that I just needed something that would match that,” she told interviewer Ben Boudreau.
“Stepping Stone is my heart,” Ross wrote Monday.
“…[T]he staff are the amongst the best I have ever worked with, and the program users have taught me more than I could ever dream of learning in a university or from a book—because those impacted by policy are the true experts for change.”
“I am not sure what is next for me but I do know that I will always be an advocate and I will always fight for human rights.”