REGINA — Indigenous leaders and organizers providing support to Regina’s homeless community have added their voices to the movement calling for long-overdue action to address the housing crisis in the province.
Vice-chiefs David Pratt and Heather Bear spoke on behalf of the entire executive of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) on Nov. 1, gathering at the recently created tent city in Regina called Camp Marjorie, which is housing many of the city’s most vulnerable.
Pratt and Bear issued statements calling on the provincial government to make immediate changes to help individuals like those staying in Camp Marjorie, before winter weather arrives.
“It's a national shame and embarrassment when we can’t provide for our most vulnerable people,” said Pratt. “And it's not just an issue in the city of Regina — it’s an issue across this province.”
The FSIN is looking for provincial ministries to increase the availability of housing alternatives and addictions treatment options, to supplement financial support programs offered in Saskatchewan. Ideally, said a statement, services would be Indigenous-led and fully funded to provide the best services possible.
“Those resources and supports need to come in to address all of these issues that are interconnected: addictions, trauma, lack of opportunities for economic development,” said Pratt.
Advocates including the FSIN are also saying that recent changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program need to be rolled back, as there has been an immediate negative impact on those who rely on the service.
The program previously provided payment for rent and utility bills directly to landlords. Following a policy change at the end of August that replaced the former Saskatchewan Assistance Program with SIS, clients now receive their allocations directly.
“This is a major concern, especially for those who have limited to no knowledge and experience budgeting and managing their own money, including those who are suffering from addictions and mental health issues,” said a statement from the FSIN.
Since the change, on-the-ground support providers say they are seeing a spike in homelessness in the province as a result.
Erica Beaudin, executive director at the Regina Treaty Status Indian Services, said that Camp Marjorie is one visual representation of how the community is being affected by the lack of support services available.
“This is only a microcosm of what we, as an agency, work with every day,” said Beaudin.
The tent city in Pepsi Park in Regina sprang up at the beginning of October, to provide a temporary offer of shelter, food and support services to those in need.
As of Nov. 1, Camp Marjorie has increased to include about 70 tents that offer shelter to a max capacity of about 100 individuals at night.
Beaudin said that while donations of food, supplies and volunteers have been wonderfully steady since Camp Marjorie put out the call, the current situation is not feasible forever.
The FSIN’s call to action is currently focused on Regina, said Pratt, as Camp Marjorie is in need of immediate help to support its residents.
But the FSIN wants to see a “template” for service provision to spread from the Queen City to the province’s other in-need centres, like Saskatoon, Prince Albert and the Battlefords.
Beaudin and the RTSIS is one of many support-focused groups who want to see the province provide more long-term solutions to the service shortage that is currently failing so many.
“We know there are enough homes for people, but we also know that there aren’t the types of supports that are required in order to do the work,” said Beaudin.
The FSIN said the policy problem is their concern as an estimated 75 per cent of the province’s homeless population are Indigenous.
Pratt said that approximately 90 per cent of the people currently staying at Camp Marjorie are Indigenous and affected by trauma-related issues that stem from government policies, including the residential school system.
He said that both the provincial and federal governments have a treaty obligation to provide care to citizens. Beaudin said that organizations like the RTSIS have been calling for help for Indigenous residents for "many, many years" and only continued programming will help.
“This is not a new problem,” said Beaudin. “It will take, at the very least, years in order to help these people walk towards the independence that we all should have.”
Beaudin said that the RTSIS is in conversation with provincial social services, with plans to relocate some individuals at Camp Marjorie into more stable housing beginning today.
The RTSIS is also working on a “Made in Regina” plan for Camp Marjorie, said Beaudin, with discussion ongoing wiht the City of Regina and affiliates to secure an interim indoor facility for the camp to move into for the winter.
Details are not yet confirmed, but Beaudin said such a move could potentially happen within a week.