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SHIP coordinating response with other groups to shelter homeless from the cold

The Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership works with the Saskatoon Fire Department, the City of Saskatoon and the Saskatoon Tribal Council in assisting to house the homeless

SASKATOON — The Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership has been coordinating with other agencies in the city to help the homeless, those who live in makeshift homes or encampments, and those who sleep in the streets as temperatures begin to dip below zero.

SHIP executive director Priscilla Johnstone told SASKTODAY that the Cold Weather Strategy is the coordinated response.

“SHIP collaborates with community in a coordinated action response through the Cold Weather Strategy to collectively support vulnerable people seeking shelter or a safe warm place to stay during extreme cold temperatures.”

“Encampments is the jurisdiction of the Emergency Management Operations within the City of Saskatoon which functions through the safety and security lens. They also work collectively with all community partners through a wrap support continuum addressing many areas of concerns including homelessness.”

She added that they have been working with the Saskatoon Fire Department, the city and the Saskatoon Tribal Council in assisting to house the homeless.

“We already work together collectively in finding viable solutions. Currently we have housing case managers that have housed, to date, approximately 175 individuals and hard to house persons/families with complex needs within the last year.”

Housing case managers programs, however, had limited funding and Johnstone said will not be extended to next year. This would be an additional challenge in addressing the issue of homelessness aside from the ones that they are already facing, like resources.

“First, there is not enough resources and limited capacity within the City of Saskatoon to attempt the tackle homelessness. There needs to be a multi disciplinary approach from all levels of government and [non-governmental organizations] in creating a collective action orientated plan,” said Johnstone.

SIS program 'no help'

The Saskatchewan Income Support program, established by the Ministry of Social Services, could increase homelessness in the city according to Saskatchewan Landlords Association chief executive officer Cameron Choquette.

Choquette, in a letter sent to Mayor Charlie Clark and the City Council last August, believes the new income assistance program could impact rental housing providers and other community-based organizations.

And Johnstone said basic allowance has been reduced.

“Support continuums appear to have been taken away for recipients on the SIS program. [For] example: damage deposits paid only once within two years and clawed back $50 a month of every check to repay in full. Trustees [and] letters of guarantee no longer are available.”

Johnstone said there are also federal programs and other initiatives that assist people, like low-income families.

“SHIP is the Community Entity for the Reaching Home: Canada’s Homelessness Strategy which is community based, focusing on prevention and reduction of homelessness.

“Community based organizations seek funding through the designated and Indigenous funding streams of the Reaching Home Homelessness Strategy that we monitor and distribute. Within those projects there are multiple programs designed to support and assist marginalized people.”

She added that SHIP and SLA assist those who avail the programs by providing financial resources for CBOs to conduct service provision.

Johnstone, however, said that landlords are also reluctant to house SIS program recipients, the call centre has back logs for clients seeking support and guidance, and most homeless people don’t have any access to a phone or computer.

“It appears to be barriers after barriers that greatly impact the homeless crisis.”

She said that they also express the same concerns brought by the mayors of Saskatchewan’s cities on the challenges that the most vulnerable group are experiencing.

“We have no control or authority of the mayors of Saskatchewan or work directly with [them] at this time. But we do work collectively and collaboratively with all community members in finding workable solutions in addressing homelessness.”

Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association City Mayor’s Caucus chair Mayor Gerald Aalbers of Lloydminster said some of those who avail the SIS program are struggling.

“We are only two months into the new support program, and we are already seeing people struggle to pay their rent. This program is designed to help our most vulnerable, but instead, we are seeing an increase in homelessness in our communities.”

The Ministry of Social Services replaced the Saskatchewan Assistance and Transitional Employment Allowance programs with SIS on Aug. 31. A survey conducted by SLA showed that more than 30 per cent — more than 4,000 people — of SIS clients were not able to pay their rent in the months of September and October.

SUMA’s City Mayors’ Caucus discussed the new program’s impact to their cities in a video conference meeting last week. Aalbers said safety is always a priority int their communities.

“Homelessness creates significant public safety concerns for both those experiencing it and the community as a whole.

“As municipal leaders, we appreciate the need to make programs more efficient. However, efficiency should not take precedence over the purpose of the program – helping those who need it.”

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