Saskatoon city councillors discuss homeless people and emergency shelter spaces

Click to play video: 'Serious challenges on the horizon for Saskatoon’s unhoused population: fire chief'
Serious challenges on the horizon for Saskatoon’s unhoused population: fire chief
On Wednesday, Saskatoon Fire Chief Morgan Hackl said, "encampment data shows that the size of the homeless community has grown, serious health issues from exposure have risen, and now a shelter already experiencing overcapacity will close April 1." – Feb 28, 2024

Saskatoon city council on Wednesday has a number of items on the agenda, but a couple councillors are bringing forward motions revolving around the homeless community and shelters slated for the city.

The Saskatchewan government announced two new shelter locations in Saskatoon, one at 1701 Idylwyld Dr. N. at a former liquor store in the Mayfair community and the other at 421 Central Ave. in Sutherland, taking over the fire hall.

Coun. Darren Hill submitted a motion to bring back statistics about what impact the STC Wellness Centre has had on crime in the Fairhaven community and what community safety efforts were coordinated with those residents and what efforts Mayfair and Sutherland residents can expect.

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STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand discusses winter warmup strategy

The STC Wellness Centre has been what many councillors and residents have been comparing shelter spaces to in the city, with many Fairhaven residents taking part in public protests and fighting against the shelter’s implementation, saying that crime has spiked in the area.

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Hill, in his motion claimed that crime in the area around the Wellness Centre has risen almost 1,100 per cent, year over year.

The city has a bylaw in place for the location of licensed adult services, requiring businesses to be located 160 metres from schools, playgrounds, residential areas and recreational facilities. Hill said the same bylaw should be mandated for shelters.

Coun. Zach Jeffries took to X (formerly Twitter) to say that he would also be bringing forward a motion regarding shelter spaces.

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Former Saskatoon fire station bad choice for shelter, councillor says

His motion would establish that future shelter spaces need to be at least 250 metres away from elementary schools and at least 500 metres away from existing shelter locations.

“I believe this motion will help provide more certainty and clarity in the community about future shelters and how they can best be located,” Jeffries said.

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“If this motion passes, it would end consideration of the former Fire Hall Number 5 as a location for a shelter and ensure that different sites can be looked at that take into account these separation distances.”

Coun. Troy Davies seconded Hill’s motion, with Hill saying he got a tour of the neighbourhood in Fairhaven by residents and got a tour of the Wellness Centre from shelter staff.

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“The neighbourhood itself has got issues. We’re all fully aware of that,” Hill said.

He said he has heard from residents about their direct experiences but wanted hard statistics.

Local pastor Robert Pearce spoke at the meeting, claiming that the local 7-11 in Fairhaven gave him statistics about reports of things like vandalism, shoplifting and threats uttered to employees.

“In 2022, the 7-11 in Fairhaven had 58 cases reported. When compared to the same period the Saskatoon Police Service’s (SPS) data for that location shows 24 reported incidents,” Pearce claimed.

He claimed the number reported by 7-11 jumped in 2023 to 627 cases, adding that SPS only shows 147 cases.

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Vacant fire station has potential to help community members in need, SFD chief says

“Most of the crimes occurring in our community now reflects how this shelter is failing in its ability to deliver to the needs of the homeless.”

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Pearce said he has called 911 so many times in the Fairhaven area due to people passed out in parks or on private property that the 911 dispatcher recognized his voice.

Coun. David Kirton asked if Pearce was still looking for the STC Wellness Centre to be shut down.

Pearce said he couldn’t see how a shelter could succeed if there was no long-term solution for complex needs and the shelter ran on a first-come, first-served basis where numerous people can walk into a community.

He said the shelter needs to be closed and that a better solution needs to be found.

Mayor Charlie Clark asked what hope or goal Pearce had in addressing homelessness by closing a facility like the Wellness Centre during a time when the city is facing a dire situation.

Pearce said they try to help homeless people where they can, but they’ve had to lock the doors to the church due to people trying to force their way in.

He said the community wants to help, but claimed that organizations like Sask Health and other experts on addictions have not been approached to help with shelters.

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NSBA outlines concerns over a new emergency shelter

“I am nowhere near qualified to even offer a solution. I don’t have experts on payroll to help me with social issues.”

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Pearce said it wasn’t his responsibility to find a solution for homelessness, but he was willing to participate and help.

Clark clarified with Hill that his motion’s intent was to get a better idea of what is going on in the Fairhaven community and not to pass blame onto the Wellness Centre.

Coun. Troy Davies said shelters are needed in the city, saying the homeless population is growing on a yearly basis.

He noted that they can’t drop shelters in communities without the proper funding in place for policing.

“It’s time that we go back and fix Fairhaven and the Confederation Park business hub, get the right formula on what the funding looks like so that when the province does come back to us with a shelter ask we can be upfront with them saying this is a business line item,” Davies said.

Council passed Hill’s motion, as well as a motion passed by Kirton to offer some form of public consultation regarding these statistics.

Discussion started around Jeffries’ motion later in the day, with him prefacing that this wasn’t a pleasant conversation, but a necessary one.

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Sutherland residents speak on Saskatoon shelter location

“With a bit of hindsight and some time I’ve come to the conclusion that some pieces around separation distance are also important criteria for us to be considering,” Jeffries said.

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He said if this is something that other councillors agree upon then it would preclude the process for considering the former fire hall as a location for a shelter.

Hill asked where the 250-metre distance of separation between elementary schools and shelters came from, and Jeffries said it was a suggestion through conversations with city administration.

City administration noted that this was suggested as a maximum distance that would offer a reasonable distance between facilities while achieving the desired effect but not fully sterilizing too much property.

It was noted that the only reason the city has any power regarding this shelter planning is because it were requested to help by the provincial government and that many of the shelter sites currently in the city were determined because they aligned with zoning bylaws.

Hill asked if this motion would override the eligibility of zoning, which administration said was a very different conversation that could have human rights implications.

Saskatoon city manager Jeff Jorgenson said when they were approached by the province to find sites for shelters that there was a high level of urgency, and that urgency still exists now.

Saskatoon fire Chief Morgan Hackl touched on the urgency being seen in the city for shelters, giving an example of one person needing to have eight toes amputated this winter so far.

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“Our concern is, yes, the cold weather now, but also the longer-term effects of the impacts of being homeless in the community,” Hackl said.

Council passed the motion, requiring shelters to be 250 metres away from elementary schools. The city said this means that the former fire hall is no longer a viable option as a shelter space.

— with files from Global News’ Brooke Kruger

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