Saskatchewan provincial government extends pilot project with Saskatoon Tribal Council

After a one-day count conducted by volunteers, local organizations have a better understanding of homelessness in Saskatoon. File / Global News

A project to help Saskatoon’s homeless population find stable and long-term housing has been extended with additional funding from the Government of Saskatchewan.

Last September, the provincial government partnered with Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) to form the Sawêyihtotân pilot project, which helps those experiencing homelessness.

Adding to the initial contribution of $100,000, the province will provide $350,000 to continue the pilot project.

“I am so pleased by the initial success we have seen from this community-driven initiative, under the strong leadership of the Saskatoon Tribal Council,” Social Services Minister Lori Carr said in a media release.

“Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to extend the pilot to fully realize the benefits of this important work for people in need in downtown Saskatoon.”

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The pilot includes a task force with members from STC, the City/Saskatoon Police Service, two staff members from the Ministry of Social Services, and one from the Saskatoon Housing Authority and the organizations that are part of the Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to Safety and Well-Being group.

The Sawêyihtotân pilot project is split into two phases: a comprehensive community-based case management strategy, and a long-term transitional supportive housing model.

During the first phase, STC stated the team had nearly 500 interactions with people where they offered daily health check-ins, transportation assistance, meal delivery and help securing housing.

Operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sawêyihtotân team integrated with support services offered out of White Buffalo Youth Lodge and were able to find either short-term or long-term housing for more than 75 people.

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The steering committee supported the project to reduce barriers for people to access services and specifically supported the team in improved access to detox services and reducing the rate of unlawful inhabitations.

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“STC is focused on delivering programs and services that wrap around and blanket our relatives, providing opportunities for reconnection through culture and kinship and improving quality of life,” Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said.

“The Community Safety and Well-being Partners group and the Saskatchewan government have supported our ‘for Indigenous, by Indigenous’ project service model.  We are committed to being a part of the solution to break down barriers related to mental health, addictions, income and safe housing support.  Our focus is to support the well-being of our people, all people, as we are status-blind.

“Based on the deliverables of the Sawêyihtotân project and the teachings gained in the process, we are moving forward to continue programming for our relatives, collaborating with partners and the business community.”

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The Sawêyihtotân pilot project stemmed from a tenant evacuation at the City Centre Inns and Suites, which was forced to close its doors in 2020 due to unsafe living conditions. STC spearheaded the pilot project and welcomed the provincial government and several community agencies to support those who were displaced.

The aim of the project is to address safety in downtown Saskatoon and to support people through the barriers they face to secure housing.  Additional funds to support the extension of the pilot will be determined in the near future.

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“The announcement of continued provincial support to the Sawêyihtotân project is very important,” Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said. “The Sawêyihtotân team have been able to make significant progress in a short time, in the face of a cold winter and the challenge of a pandemic.  The City of Saskatoon is proud to be a partner supporting the Sawêyihtotân team to use an Indigenous-led approach in caring for people living in homelessness.

“Being able to work in partnership creates better outcomes for people and our city.”

Sawêyihtotân, pronounced “suh-WAY-EE-TOTE-tahn,” means “to bless each other through our show of respect for each other.”

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