As Camp Marjorie, Regina’s tent city in Core Community Park, is now in its second week, it shows no signs of slowing down, especially with winter fast approaching.
Those facing homelessness say their situation has become more precarious due to the implementation of the Saskatchewan Income Support program known as SIS and advocates say Regina isn’t the only place grappling with this issue.
SIS replaced the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) and the Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA). Both programs were closed out on Aug. 31.
“We’re seeing it across the province: La Ronge is getting ready to open up a homeless shelter, we’re hearing the same thing in meadow Lake, Yorkton, Prince Albert, like we’re seeing homelessness grow across the entire province,” explained Jason Mercredi, executive director of Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon.
“It’s not just a city thing. In Regina they got organized to make a tent city,” he added.
Mercredi says there are smaller encampments spread out across Saskatoon, especially in suburban neighbourhoods, and if things don’t change soon, he says advocates will have no other choice but to set up a larger and more consolidated camp of their own.
“I think for safety’s sake we’re going to have to open up a tent city here. It’s not something we want to do, it’s something we’ve been trying to alleviate in the community,” Mercredi said.
“A number of our CBOs (community based organizations) were working to address it, but the reality is the snow’s about to fall and we’ve got a pretty serious life or death situation coming,” he stated.
Fred Sandeski, director of the Community Low Income Center in Weyburn, says people on SIS who have yet to become homeless are having to choose between keeping the lights on and having enough food to eat.
“What they’re doing is paying the utilities one month and buying groceries the next month. There’s only (so much) that the SIS program has going towards food and that has to include their utilities,” Sandeski said.
He goes on to lament that he’s also worried about even more people slipping into homelessness this winter without sufficient safety nets in place.
Last week, Lori Carr, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Social Services, provided a statement in which she said the Saskatchewan government recognizes every client situation is different, but that they remain committed to supporting low-income individuals and families.
“SIS takes a ‘whole income’ approach by providing a financial benefit for shelter and basic needs, with additional benefits available for emergency health and safety needs or starting a new job. It also recognizes that SIS is not the only source of income clients receive,” reads Carr’s response.
“Ministry staff (meet) with clients on a case-by-case basis to help them develop a monthly budget, access all income supports that may be available to them, including provincial and federal benefits. SIS also includes increased earned income exemptions so clients can keep more of what they earn before their benefits are reduced, and supports that client in their move to self-sufficiency.”
The minister mentioned that clients were able to switch from TEA or SAP at any time once SIS launched in July of 2019.
“The majority of income assistance clients continue to manage their own benefits and finances. This is a similar approach to many other provinces in Canada including British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba. Being able to manage their own finances is a critical skill for our clients as it helps to ensure they can get jobs and sustain employment without returning to income assistance programs,” the statement continues.
“For the minority of clients who face challenges managing their own funds, ministry staff help them to make arrangements for a trustee. A trustee can be a friend, family member, community-based organization or advocate.”
Carr added that the Ministry of Social Services will continue outreach efforts to support their clients in becoming self-sufficient to the best of their abilities.
— with files from Global News’ Moises-Canales-Lavigne