SASKATOON — Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand announced Friday, Oct. 28, that they will slowly move the wellness centre downtown to a new facility at 415 Fairmont Drive.
Arcand, says if he only had money to fund facilities like the STC wellness centre, he would have wanted to have one in each of the 10 wards of the city, serving the people who need the services they offer.
“I say this publicly to everybody; we should have one of these [wellness centres] in every ward of the city of Saskatoon because it treats everybody fairly. Whether a small, medium or a large facility with all the proper support [systems],” said Arcand.
“These facilities will have the proper supports [mental health and addiction counselling, temporary shelter, etc.] as it has done in our downtown location. We’ve lowered the number of police and paramedic calls in the past year. What happens outside is the problem.”
Arcand sees the issue of the rising cases of homelessness and addiction in the city, and his organization is trying to address that by providing the needed services offered at the wellness centre downtown.
The STC wellness centre had operated at total capacity since opening its doors to homeless individuals — Indigenous or non-Indigenous — on Dec. 15, 2021, just in time for the winter months providing shelter, especially during days when extreme cold warnings were in effect.
The 1st Avenue North downtown location has used more than 16,000 beds, supported over 30 families and helped around 1,400 people with various cases of addiction and mental health problems since it opened in December last year.
“We’re working on mental health, we’re working on addictions, [helping them find] employment, [permanent] housing and just focusing on every individual to help them. We’ve housed some families. I think we’ve housed six families in our current facility to this date,” said Arcand.
“We’re still dealing with many addictions. We see homelessness on the rise in Saskatoon, but it is happening everywhere. It’s a problem. It’s a community problem and not just a downtown problem.”
Arcand, who briefed the media on STC’s partnership with the Saskatchewan Housing Corp., said that the rising costs of food and rent are among the reasons the number of homeless people rose in the city, coupled with drug and alcohol addiction problems.
“People are moving from communities to the city that can’t get a house. They have nowhere else to go. We had an infant as young as three months old. This is serious stuff in the city and people have to start recognizing that this is a community issue,” Arcand said.
“Winter is coming, it’s cold and that the end of the day, when we look at this, we’re just trying to help people. I think many people in our city support us. There are also who are questioning us, ‘why in my neighbourhood?’”
Arcand said they planned a multi-faceted approach to how people who need their services also thinking about transportation and accessibility of the new wellness centre location.
He said access to public transportation is one of the factors they considered when they planned and looked for the location of the new wellness centre at Fairmont Drive, as it is near the city bus route.
“There’s also public transportation nearby. There are bus routes. We have bus tickets for individuals. So we’re supporting individuals to have a quality of life and get them the service they need,” said Arcand.
STC will provide transportation to relatives who need it with the help of the Sawēyihtotān Outreach. At the same time, the facility is also accessible via transit buses as they also provide bus passes.
“We will have two mental health and addiction [support] vans that we will be utilizing to provide those services. They [Sawēyihtotān and STC vans] will be there supporting [relatives] for transportation to an appointment or everywhere they need to go,” said Arcand.
“It will be there to provide service as much as we can so people won’t be walking. For outreach teams driving around on a cold night and there are people outside, we have our vans to support them and bring them to the location [new facility].”
Arcand said the STC’s partnership with SHC had the latter purchasing the property on Fairmont Drive for $5 million, which will be used by the former under a lease agreement.
Under the lease agreement, the STC will be responsible for the maintenance and daily operations of the facility, like utility costs (water, power, heating, etc.) unlike the one at 1st Avenue North where the city pays for everything.
The SHC will take care of upgrades, such as roof and heating system repairs, to help keep STC’s new facility providing three daily meals, showers and laundry, and mental health and addiction counselling services.
The STC will move its wellness centre to a more extensive facility but will continue to operate the one downtown in time for the coming winter season until its lease with the city ends in March 2023. They plan to have the new facility operational Nov. 15.
Arcand said a total of 106 beds would be available. They currently serve 75 relatives at the facility at 1st Avenue North downtown.
Sixty-one beds were made available after the provincial government decided to stop funding the temporary shelter services of The Lighthouse, with the STC taking over 31 and the Salvation Army accepting the other 30.