The Saskatoon Indian and Métis Friendship Centre (SIMFC) has opened a new shelter aimed at helping young homeless adults and youth.
The daytime youth shelter is called Wicitizon. Its purpose is to help young people between the ages of 16 and 26 but others are welcome. It can host up to 12 guests at a time.
Youth shelter project manager Charlene Cote said this age group tops the list for the growing homeless population in Saskatoon. The last point-in-time count on homelessness in the city was in 2016 where 200 homeless or under-housed youth were reported.
“We wanted to address that by providing shelter, provide them with essential things as well as transitional support,” Cote said.
“Help them with housing, employment, etc.”
Shelter guest Simon Mercredi said staff are in the process of helping him find a new home. He said he’s grateful they did.
“Glen has been helping me with paperwork getting a new home,” Mercredi said. “Charlene introduced me to this place last week.”
Mercredi said he will be coming back to the shelter in the future.
Cote said while the shelter’s focus is to help young adults who are Indigenous, anyone is welcome.
She added that many of the young people who come to the shelter are battling concurrent disorders.
“Many of the youth who come here are suffering from addiction issues,” Cote said. “Many come in with mental health issues or trying to recovery from addictions.
“We also work collaboratively with other organizations such as the White Buffalo Youth Lodge, who provides sister services.”
The people they are helping do not qualify for services provided by EGADZ.
Cote said that besides providing meals and a place to sleep, they also have computers, a movie screen, Indigenous culture-themed activities and the chance to contact family members.
Glen Watcheston, a practicum student in his third year at First Nations University of Canada, said addictions among the young adults and youth in the Indigenous community have raised the need for shelters.
“It’s a small answer to the problem,” Watcheston said. “More agencies raising awareness that our own children are living on the streets with no food or shelter. It gets cold out there. We don’t want to see anyone die.”
Watcheston said these young adults and youth are getting pushed out of other shelters that are made for cold-weather strategies but not for the side effects of addictions. This shelter has more tolerance. He is happy to help out any way he can.
“I get a personal gratification that every day I came here I can do good, and help people — my people.”
“They don’t have a safe place to go at night,” Cote said. “We don’t offer services at night. So, we are sending these youth knowingly out to sleep outside under bridges by the river.”
She said they cover their guest’s COVID-19 tests, as some shelters in the city require proof of a negative test.
Cote added that the pilot project in place will run until March 31, unless more funding is obtained through the community or by other means. Current funding for the shelter is courtesy of the Saskatoon Housing Initiative Partnership.
The drop-in centre is open between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Shelter services are provided Monday through Friday until 4:30 p.m.