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Homelessness issue threatens to hijack Regina budget deliberations

Council set to make decisions on budget on Friday following some tense moments Thursday, particularly on the homeless issue.

REGINA - The second day of Regina budget deliberations continued Tuesday, with council hearing a series of delegations throughout the meeting.

Around 80 or so presenters were scheduled to speak to council deliberations. During the morning session council heard from several organizations in the morning including Economic Development Regina, the Provincial Capital Commission, REAL, the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce, and others.

But it was the homeless issue that dominated the afternoon session. Council heard from several delegations calling on the city to provide homeless funding using a Housing First model. During those presentations, many of the speakers making known their disappointment that homeless funding had been left out of the draft budget from administration, and called for its reinstatement.

Homeless issue discussed at length

As expected the issue of homeless funding produced some emotional and tense moments.

“How do you sleep at night?” was the question Meadow Wells-Goudie posed to council as she gave an impassioned address where she implored council to put the homeless funding back in the budget. “Please, no more empty words. Only action.”

Members of the audience broke out into applause after some of those early presentations on the homeless issue such as Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry and Russell Mitchell-Walker of Eastside United Church. That eventually prompted warnings from Mayor Sandra Masters to the audience not to applaud or disrupt the proceedings.

The applauding stopped, but demonstrations from the audience continued. Several audience members stood as Kevin Vance, of Gentle Road Church, had a moment of silence for several individuals impaired by homelessness.

Regina resident Wanda Natawayous gave an even more dramatic presentation. She placed an urn of her deceased daughter Angela Andrews in front of her on the desk.

“She was found unconscious in one of the back alleys and later died of a blood infection,” she told council. Again, audience members stood up after her presentation.

In speaking to reporters after, Natawayous said she felt she needed to “shock them, to show them that there are people affected, more than these faceless people that are out there.”

Later, another presenter, Shylo Stevenson, spoke of an incident he claimed had happened to him earlier that day at City Hall when he tried to smudge inside the building.

“I was dragged out by security out the front door,” Stevenson told council during his presentation. “We talk about systemic racism. I’m glad that was caught on camera.”

“That was a hard incident to deal with… but hey, it’s Crazytown,” Stevenson said, using a term Mayor Masters had used in a radio interview in reference to the recent court action.

During his presentation, Stevenson also turned to Councillor Terina Nelson to say “can I have your attention please? We’re speaking.” 

That prompted a rebuke from Mayor Masters to Stevenson. Masters later had to similarly warn another presenter who had said “Councillor Hawkins, can I get your attention?”

Much later, Masters intervened again when Kale MacLellan, another Regina resident speaking on the homeless issue, spoke of the June 15 meeting and started to say "unelected city administration decided to ignore clear direction..."

"Drop the line that you're taking. This matter has been settled with the courts. We're clearly all aware of what happened," said Masters.

Florence Stratton refers to Ebenezer Scrooge

Local resident and activist Florence Stratton, who had been a co-applicant in the unsuccessful court application against the City Manager, referred to the story of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in her presentation.

“The question the ghost of Christmas present asks Scrooge, might equally well be directed at the decision makers of Regina. ‘Will you decide what people shall live and what people shall die?’”

Stratton ended her presentation by providing copies of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to council.

Decisions still to be made

At this point the draft budget before council is calling for a mill rate increase of 4.67 per cent in 2023 and 4.66 per cent in 2024. Those numbers could go down, or up, based on the decisions council makes this week.

In speaking to reporters during the noon break, Councillor Bob Hawkins spoke of the feedback they had received so far. 

Hawkins said they “have pretty clear feedback from the public that they aren’t happy with the 4.67 mill rate increase and I think they’re anxious to get that down.”

As for how to get it down, Hawkins said “our job is to look for efficiencies to find where they are in the budget, if there are things like positions that don’t need to be filled, then maybe that offers us an opportunity. There may be some opportunity in the reserves. Yes, it is possible, it’s our job to find those places where we can reduce the budget and I’m sure the administration has some ideas and will help us as well.”

As for how to address the homeless issue, Hawkins said this:

“Council has done a tremendous amount this year in terms of social issues like homelessness. The best example is we set up the wellness committee board headed by Mike O’Donnell. There are six tables that they are looking at. They are developing a coherent plan to coordinate public money to be spent on the wide variety of social issues, including homelessness. That’s a way that we can work on this problem at the same time as we work on many of the other problems that we have to deal with.”

He also reminded people again that “social services are a provincial responsibility. That is where the primary responsibility lies.”

Council has now recessed for the night. The third day of budget deliberations are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. on Friday morning.

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