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Stigma insurmountable for Saskatchewan income assistance clients seeking place to live

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Stigma insurmountable for Saskatchewan income assistance clients seeking place to live
Living on social assistance and disability income assistance is difficult at the best of times, but two local women say finding a place to rent in Regina while on assistance is nearly impossible. Victoria Idowu has the exclusive – Jan 17, 2024

Living on social assistance and disability income assistance is difficult at the best of times, but two local women say finding a place to rent in Regina while on assistance is nearly impossible.

Mandy Goforth lived in a house for 10 years in North Central with her six children before the owner sold it early last year.

She says that’s when she first experienced the hardship of living on the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program after falling behind on rent. Goforth received $900 from the SIS program but says that was not enough to pay rent and bills and buy groceries for her family.

“It got very frustrating. I finally got a letter from … the housing company (or) the rentals man,” she said. “I called them, and they said, ‘If you come to the hearing, you could probably work things out and get your house back in order.’ But in order to do the hearing, (I) needed to pay two months’ rent.”

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Goforth did not have the funds and began her search for a new home. But it wasn’t as easy as she had hoped.

Goforth says she has felt discriminated against when landlords learned she was on the SIS program. Feeling defeated by the inability to find a home, she sent her children away to live with other family members until she is able to find a suitable house.

“I wish that (social services) would help people a whole lot more…. A whole lot of people are homeless and it’s a struggle,” Goforth said. “How can a person better themselves or become employed when their whole life is just a struggle to feed themselves or find somewhere to keep warm?”

At the moment, Goforth is experiencing homelessness and lives in hotel rooms, paying out of her own pocket as she no longer qualifies for SIS. In December 2023, Goforth received agricultural benefits, also known as Cows and Plows, from her community of Peepeekisis First Nation.

She said she worries about what will happen when those benefits run out, which is why she has been trying to get back on the SIS program. However, the SIS program requires a home address, which Goforth does not have. So, the process of trying to get back on the SIS program has been difficult for her. She has been able to receive income assistance from her home community of Peepeekisis First Nation but says it’s not enough to live in the city.

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“It’s like a full-time job trying to get on SIS and trying to continue to be on it,” she said. “It was just so difficult and basically impossible to try to get help.... I needed their support. I needed help to secure a home. I needed somewhere to live.”

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RaeAnne Ellert has been a Regina resident for three years, and is a current Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) client. Ellert has a cognitive disability caused by a rare gene. She said it takes her longer to learn things and she struggles with stairs, so she needs to live in a place that is accessible.

“Because of my disability, I also have poor depth perception,” Ellert said. “Going upstairs is fine, but going downstairs is a different story.”

During her search for a place, Ellert said it became frustrating when she was asked about her source of income.

“I know when they asked what income I (was) on, I told them SAID and then I explained, ‘I promise I’m good on paying my rent. You can ask all my past landlords,'” she said. “I do believe that there is a stereotype with people who are on SAID…. One of the most frustrating things I hear is, ‘Why don’t you just get a job?’ Well, I tried. I tried for over two years trying to find a suitable job and I couldn’t.”

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Peter Gilmer, an advocate for the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said he is aware of the concerns of discrimination SIS/SAID clients face.

“There’s better landlords and worse landlords, there’s better tenants and worse tenants, and income assistance isn’t the dividing line when it comes to that,” Gilmer said. “There continues to be discriminatory attitudes towards people on income assistance…. On the other hand, some of the policy issues have had an impact where people will quietly not rent to people on income assistance because of concerns.”

Gilmer said one of the things that has driven the ongoing homelessness crisis in the community has been a higher rate of eviction and utility cut-offs. Before SIS was introduced in 2019, the social assistance program ensured rent went directly to the landlords and that utilities were covered. But under the SIS program, those features were clawed back.

“It’s always been a top concern of ours since the SIS program came into place that we really need to ensure that the actual cost of utilities is covered as it was with previous programs,” Gilmer said. “It would be helpful if the programs were more adequate and make it easier…. We certainly know that people that we work with are often excellent tenants, whether they’re on the SIS or the SAID program.”

Cameron Choquette, CEO of the Saskatchewan Landlord Association (SLA), said the biggest issue since the SIS program changed in 2021 is the financial risk that landlords take when they rent to people on income assistance.

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“Rent and utilities are no longer paid directly. That caused just a number of issues over the course of the last two and half years since those changes came in,” Choquette said. “We’ve seen a consistent lack of training and education delivered to SIS clients, so they understand how to pay their rent and how to really manage their money. It’s extremely hard to manage money on the SIS program because there’s just not enough of it.”

The average shelter benefit in Saskatoon and Regina for a single person is $630. Choquette said there are very few one-bedroom apartments in either city or even in rural towns that are $630 plus utilities. Choquette said some tenants on the SIS program face issues trying to hook up their utilities as some are in arrears.

In his four years with the SLA, Choquette said they have been having plenty of conversations about recommendations for changes to the SIS program, such as reinstating direct payment for rent and utilities, the letter of guarantee for security deposits, and what the actual costs are for shelter/housing in the province.

“What we’d like to see moving forward is targeted supports for those low-income individuals in our province,” he said. “We would like to work with agencies in Saskatoon and Regina and other cities in the province on informing them about how they can work with social assistance clients.”

Choquette said an event held on Tuesday informed agencies on how to help landlords work with tenants on social assistance.

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“So, it’s trying to find a win-win here, reduce the myths and misconceptions of renting to people on income assistance,” he said.

 

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