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Saskatchewan shelters anticipate more demand, but have fewer beds available

The Salvation Army's Waterston House dormitory-style emergency shelter is operating at reduced capacity to meet physical distancing requirements and keep clients safe.
The Salvation Army's Waterston House dormitory-style emergency shelter is operating at reduced capacity to meet physical distancing requirements and keep clients safe. Dave Parsons / Global News

With fewer emergency beds available heading into the winter, some Saskatchewan shelters are trying to figure out solutions to meet a demand that could be higher than usual.

“Our shelter is always full. We are always turning people away, pandemic or not pandemic,” said Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen, CEO of YWCA Regina, which runs My Aunt’s Place for women and children.

Read more: Saskatchewan shelters slash space as domestic violence rises during pandemic

“There’s no doubt there’s going to be a higher need for us. I think as a community of service providers, we are looking at our cold weather strategy with different lens this year, and revisiting what some of our plans are going to be over the winter.”

Click to play video 'Saskatchewan shelters slash space as domestic violence rises during pandemic' Saskatchewan shelters slash space as domestic violence rises during pandemic
Saskatchewan shelters slash space as domestic violence rises during pandemic – Oct 30, 2020

Coomber-Bendtsen said ahead of the coronavirus pandemic, there was an “incredibly large group of the community” on the brink of poverty and potentially becoming homeless. With the added pressures and lack of contact organizations they have been able to maintain with people in that group in recent months, she said she’s worried.

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“First and foremost, our winter needs to have some kind of community collaboration where we really look at how we can make sure that, well, quite frankly, people aren’t going to die, whether it’s from the pandemic, outbreaks in the vulnerable community because of the pandemic or because of the cold,” Coomber-Bendtsen said.

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My Aunt’s Place, a 26-bed facility with individual rooms, has been able to maintain its level of service, but many, especially with congregate-living setups, have not.

The Salvation Army‘s dormitory-style Waterston House in Regina, which had 27 beds pre-pandemic, now has seven.

Maj. Mike Hoeft, the organization’s area commander for the province, said the shelter is compensating by making some of its 30 transitional single rooms available.

“It’s not that we’re not housing people, but we are doing it in a different way at limited capacity,” he said, noting the system is feeling the strain.

Read more: Regina shelters close doors to try to stop COVID-19 spread, food bank stays open for now

On Friday, the provincial government announced $171,000 to be split between the eight shelters that take referred income-assistance clients, including Waterston House and My Aunt’s Place.

In a press release, the social services ministry said it’s “to help respond to the pressure brought on by COVID-19.”

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The money is being distributed based on the number of beds a shelter has, a spokesperson for the ministry added in a follow-up email.

The Salvation Army, which also runs Crossroads Centre for men in Saskatoon, is getting $42,500 to divvy up between its two locations, Hoeft said, and will use it for personal protective equipment (PPE), cleaning and to purchase individually packaged versions of items that were once communal.

Crossroads Centre had 45 beds pre-pandemic, including 12 in single rooms. Now, it is able to offer a total of 33, Hoeft said.

The organization has opened an additional facility in Saskatoon, adding another 10 beds to the mix, he said.

If the Salvation Army can’t accommodate a client due to being at capacity, Hoeft said staff reach out to other shelters to see if they have space. If not, they contact the social services ministry to get the person a hotel room.

My Aunt’s Place, which is receiving about $24,000 in funding and will use it similarly to the Salvation Army, has been lucky to work with a Regina developer, who has provided an additional building to further spread out clients, Coomber-Bendtsen said.

Her concern for her organization and others serving vulnerable people relates to coronavirus outbreaks, like the one at the Lighthouse shelter in Saskatoon.

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No one from the Lighthouse, which also has a location in North Battleford, both of which were listed as receiving emergency funding, was  available for comment Friday.

Read more: Lighthouse shelter in Saskatoon restricts services due to COVID-19 outbreak

In addition to My Aunt’s Place, Waterston House and Crossroads Centre and the Lighthouse locations, the YWCA’s Cold Weather Shelter in Prince Albert and the Souls Harbour shelters in Regina and Moose Jaw are also getting some additional funding.

All of the aforementioned shelters take income-assistance client and under a contract with the social services ministry, received a combined $4 million in annual funding.

They previously got a pandemic-related funding boost in April.