The City of Saskatoon is looking to change zoning bylaws to allow a temporary shelter to open to help people get off the street, but advocates said band-aid solutions won’t solve the city’s growing homelessness problem next year.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council plans to open the temporary shelter at the beginning of December. A warehouse, or other location, is still being finalized.
But first, the city needs to change current zoning bylaws so the shelter can open and operate. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Saskatoon’s homelessness problem has only gotten worse according to those who work with vulnerable people.
Advocates have been raising the alarm around Saskatchewan income support (SIS) and have argued it has created more problems for the people it’s supposed to help since coming into full effect in September.
“It has felt like the changes to the SOS program are really potentially adding fuel to that same fire that we’re trying to put out and potentially driving more people into homelessness,” said Mayor Charlie Clark during a planning, development and community services meeting Monday.
Where previous income assistance paid rent and utilities directly to property owners, SIS expects clients to pay their bills themselves.
It was done to make people more self-sufficient, but the Saskatchewan Landlord Association said there are problems.
It said 30 per cent of tenants on SIS haven’t paid rent, leading to evictions.
“If that tenant can’t prove any ability to pay after that eviction it makes it extremely difficult to find housing which has contributed to the large visible group of homelessness that we’re seeing across the province,” said CEO Cameron Choquette.
The SIS program was introduced in 2019, and came into full effect, replacing two other social assistance programs in September this year.
In an email to Global News, social services minister Lori Carr wrote, “Since the launch of SIS in 2019, Ministry staff have supported clients in managing their household expenses, with the majority of clients being capable of managing their own finances.”
Carr wrote landlords and housing providers are encourages to connect with social services if they aren’t being paid rent.
“While they are unable to disclose to the landlord if their tenant is a SIS client, they can connect with the client to assist them with managing their budget to meet their rental obligations,” she wrote.
Saskatoon’s Salvation Army Crossroads said more transitional housing is needed to get people off the street for good.
“If we have people with mental health concerns,we need to have housing that supports those individuals with their mental health. If it’s addictions … we need housing that helps people with their addictions,” said director Marc Cheriyan.
Ward 2 city councillor Hilary Gough said there are over 200 supportive housing units in Saskatoon owned by the provincial government sitting vacant.
She said agencies in the city are ready to step in, but the province isn’t putting money toward getting staff and other supports to open up some units.
“The solutions, they’re just not that complicated,” said Gough.
“We have the units in our community and what we need to do is fund the supports behind those units and that is decidedly the job of the provincial government.”
In her email, Carr said the provincial government is working with “our partners in the community on ways we can better support clients with more complex needs who may be at risk of being homeless, and who require more support to see success.”
Saskatoon city council will discuss the bylaw change at their next meeting Nov. 26.