Fixing the state of homelessness anywhere is a massive task and one not easily fixed, yet Saskatchewan seems to be tackling it one brick at a time. Aside from doubling the number of shelters, the Ministry of Social Services has also coordinated with organizations in the province to improve their communication efficiency.
“I think what’s new in the past few years are those cold weather strategies,” said Jeff Redekop, executive director for Income Assistance Service Delivery for the Ministry of Social Services. “Shelters and organizations (mainly in Regina and Saskatoon) are communicating well and maximizing current resources.”
In other words, organizations and shelters have coordinated communication so that all resources are being used to their fullest capacity. For example, if one shelter is full, they can send out an email or alert so that people in need can be redirected to alternatives, such as a different shelter, hotel room, motel room, etc.
This enhanced communication means that help resources will have access to information for individuals in need shelter or financial aid. In Humboldt specifically, for example, anyone in need of shelter who contacts Partners Family Services will be redirected to the Humboldt Housing Authority.
“We provide family housing for those with dependents and we have senior housing for people 60 and up,” said Aaron Lukan, manager of the Humboldt Housing Authority. “We check references and that sort of thing … but if they have extenuating circumstances, such as if the place they’re living now has exceedingly high rent, then we’d probably rent to them.”
Unfortunately, despite the various options available for people without an income, there still aren’t many shelters in rural areas and smaller communities. Lukan says that the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation can subsidize a portion of the rent for low-income families, but those without any income at all would first have to get in touch with social services so as receive financial aid. In the meantime, they would have to turn to other organizations for short-term help.
“We’ve contacted Red Cross before. They won’t provide long-term accommodation, but they will provide short-term for a few days if they need immediate help and support,” said Dee Drummond-Goldman, support services manager for Partners Family Services. “(For long-term accommodation), we would strongly advise them to contact Humboldt Housing Authority.”
According to Drummond-Goldman, Partners doesn’t have a lot of experience with homeless people. Whether that’s because there simply aren’t that many homeless people in Humboldt or because they already know their options are limited is unknown. Not every person (such as a runaway youth) is in a position to reach out to Social Services or the housing authority.
“Maybe people aren’t coming in for that reason,” said Drummond-Goldman.
“There are definitely issues, no doubt. There’s an element of crisis with that problem because there’s nothing to access in Humboldt (in terms of short-term shelter).”
Rural areas and communities being what they are, it would be difficult to fix the problem since shelters and such rely on the generosity of the community they’re in. If there aren’t enough people to subsidize it, it would be difficult for the government to fund and maintain such resources.
Nevertheless, according to a recent government release, the number of shelter spaces in the province has nearly doubled since 2007. This means an increase of 212 new shelter spaces, bringing the total number up to 430. These facilities don’t include specialized services such as domestic violence shelters, youth shelters, or detox centres. Thus, if someone in need can somehow make it to a city centre such as Saskatoon or Regina, there’s a good chance they’ll be able to get help there.
“Assistance is available for people who are in need of emergency shelter,” said Social Services Minister, Donna Harpauer, in the government news release. “That is why it is so important that each one of us knows where to call if we witness someone in need.”
Anyone in immediate danger is advised to call 911. In Saskatoon, people can access help after hours by contacting the Salvation Army at 306-242-6833 or Saskatoon LightHouse at 306-653-0538. For long-term needs, people can contact Social Services by going to www.socialservices.gov.sk.ca/service-delivery.