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With birth alerts done, affordable housing should be step 1: Saskatoon organizations

Click to play video: 'With birth alerts done, affordable housing should be step 1: Saskatoon organizations' With birth alerts done, affordable housing should be step 1: Saskatoon organizations
WATCH: With birth alerts officially history in Saskatchewan, community organizations now say the province must invest more in a fundamental support for families -- housing – Feb 2, 2021

As Saskatchewan’s long-awaited decision to end birth alerts became official on Monday, community organizations called for more support for vulnerable families.

They want the province to help families find firm foundations through affordable and supportive housing.

“It truly is the starting point,” said Toby Esterby, executive director for Camponi Housing Corporation.

The Saskatoon-based non-profit has worked with many mothers who’ve been subjected to birth alerts or had their children apprehended, he said.

Read more: Saskatchewan ending birth alerts Feb. 1

Esterby said he’s encouraged by the government’s decision to end birth alerts, and he looks forward to seeing how the social services ministry transitions from policing new moms to preventing them from losing their children.

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Investing in supportive housing is a key, he said, as it isn’t widely available for people with children. Most units available in Saskatoon are one- and two-bedroom apartments, he said.

“Our waiting list that we have is heavily skewed towards families looking for those larger homes,” Esterby told Global News.

Housing insecurity puts parents at risk of having their children apprehended, he said.

“You have to focus on housing and it’s all you can do,” Esterby said.

“You leave aside making sure that children have a proper meal on the table because you don’t have enough money left at the end of the day.”

Read more: Birth alerts have been axed in Saskatchewan, but what comes next?

Len Usiskin, executive director for Quint Development Corporation, said housing costs have risen steeply. The average sale price for a home was roughly $100,000 in 2006, he said. Now, it’s more than $300,000.

“A lot of people are living in inferior-quality housing because that’s all they can afford,” Usiskin said in an interview.

Of Quint’s 209 affordable housing tenants, 87 are children, according to its 2019/20 annual report.  Quint received 453 housing applications during the 2019/20 fiscal year.

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A handful of the non-profit’s tenants live at Pleasant Hill Place, a transitional home for mothers who have lost custody of their children or are close to losing custody. There, moms work through trauma and learn parenting skills

“We have to be working upstream to be supporting families so… we can avoid foster care at all costs,” Usiskin said.

Saskatchewan’s social service ministry said it has worked with the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to assist with supportive housing projects.

“Over the past few years, the ministry has focused on capacity building in the sector — supporting community-based organizations to build on existing programs and develop new approaches,” said a statement by Janice Colquhoun, executive director of Indigenous services with child and family programs.

Colquhoun said the ministry has invested in housing projects for vulnerable moms and their babies, including Sanctum 1.5 in Saskatoon

The 10-bed facility houses new moms with HIV and addictions, and typically has a wait list of 40 women, said Jamesy Patrick, Sanctum’s interim executive director.

Two of Sanctum’s clients are struggling to find homes where they can support their newborns and have their other children returned to their care, Patrick said.

“There isn’t housing available for that, so it’s a huge barrier for moms who are looking towards reunification,” she said.

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“Without a home, how are you going to provide care for your children?”

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