Northern Saskatchewan homeless shelter program back after hiatus

Main Street Project says its outreach van has been working 24 hours a day during the recent cold snap in Winnipeg. File / Global News

After some uncertain times during the novel coronavirus pandemic, a homeless shelter is back offering mental health and addiction services in La Ronge, Sask.

Ron Woytowich, executive director of the Kikinahk Friendship Centre, said a combination of factors forced the temporary closure at the end of June.

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“There was a lot of reasons. Number one was funding, it had not come through and the truth is we can blame it all on COVID. We can blame everything on COVID, because, quite frankly, we didn’t have a contract… all hell broke loose and so we never got renewed,” he said on Monday.

“Plus, the COVID itself made it very scary for people to work. We couldn’t buy masks, we couldn’t get them anywhere. Everything that goes with it and people were scared.”

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Woytowich said it costs around $17,000 every month just to operate its Scattered Site Outreach Program.

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Acquiring personal protection equipment as well as funding from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health allowed the shelter to relaunch the program in mid-July.

“Scattered Sites is the day program, Monday to Friday. That is for mental health and addictions for street people,” Woytowich said.

“And then we also have a shelter component and that runs from November through March or April or whatever funding we can get but we run out of the same building.”

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Woytowich said they have roughly 110 clients using the year-round program, of which 89 are regulars in some way, and 202 served over the winter as a shelter.

“Approximately 40, give or take, of our clients are on methadone and they come to La Ronge and they live in La Ronge for a lot of reasons, and one of them, of course, is that no other community around here has a drug store,” Woytowich said.

“They may actually have a residence on another community or on reserve within 50 miles of here but they need to be here for their medical and so they hang around La Ronge and they’re virtually homeless.”

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Woytowich said he’s not aware of another shelter in northern Saskatchewan that offers similar services.

“It’s something that is extremely necessary… we’re a small town with big-city problems. We are in the north but we consider ourselves the hub of the north and La Ronge itself, which has about 2,500-3,000 people… (but) there’s a whole municipal area so the whole works make up about 8,000 people,” he said.

“Quite frankly, if it wasn’t for Cameco… there are individuals that have been making donations, quite a few of the doctors actually do, but other than Cameco, we really struggle.”

La Ronge is roughly 345 kilometres north of Saskatoon. 

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