Government officials said the Social Services Ministry will begin providing direct payments of shelter benefits available for rent, utilities and security deposits on behalf of these specific clients.
The ministry is also investing an additional $113,000 in 2021-22 to expand money management and trusteeship services provided through currently-contracted organizations by 25 per cent, to support more clients with complex needs, read a press release on Friday.
“Since the launch of the SIS program in 2019, we’ve been listening to feedback and reviewing the program to consider if it needed adjustments,” Social Services Minister Lori Carr said in a statement.
“While the majority of clients have been successful in managing their money and paying their own bills, we recognize that some clients with high needs require additional support, and we’re providing it.”
For some, the changes to the program mean going back to the old system.
The current program gives money to clients, who in turn pay their bills.
Previously, income support would pay rent and bills directly. Now, clients identified as having complex challenges and at risk of homelessness will go back to the ministry paying their rent and utilities.
“We determine if they have addictions issues,” said Devon Exner, income assistance programs assistant deputy minister.
“What is their education history, their employment history and through that assessment we also develop a monthly budget with them and understand if they are behind on their bills.”
More than 13,000 Saskatchewan residents use the SIS program. The change would apply to a small number of them, according to Exner.
The rest would continue to manage their money themselves.
“Focusing around assessing and working with those clients on a case-by-case basis to understand what their needs are, what their monthly budget is and determining if they need the additional support that we’re providing,” Exner said.
Homelessness advocates called for changes to SIS during protests in Regina and Saskatoon last month.
They argued some people accessing SIS need help managing their money as they deal with other things, such as mental health and addictions issues.
In October around 30 per cent of SIS clients didn’t pay their rent, according to the Saskatchewan Landlord Association.
“If they are unable to (pay their rent) and the ministry can step in and provide that rent or utility payment directly it’s one less thing for the client to worry about,” CEO Cameron Choquette said.
“It makes sure a room is over their head so they can tackle those other issues in life.”
Choquette said many property owners have been concerned about the risk of renting to someone on SIS.
“We’re hopeful that with this step in the right direction that landlords will keep renting to people on income assistance because that’s what’s important here,” he said.
Officials said there are additional dollars available over and above basic amounts for people on the SIS program, including those who are homeless and/or have just recently transitioned to the new program. This includes stabilization benefits to secure stable housing and additional dollars for emergency situations.
SIS clients can contact their income assistance worker to learn more about the supports available to them.