Saskatoon Chamber suggests city changes emergency shelter requirements

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Saskatoon Chamber suggests city changes emergency shelter requirements
Saskatoon is looking at the rules around shelters today after a councillor asked for a review of the Emergency Wellness Centre. As Easton Hamm found out, some feel the current process is "invisible" to the public. – May 3, 2023

Another Saskatoon group has joined the conversation surrounding homelessness in the community, submitting a report that has city committees questioning the process of how shelters are established.

This week, Saskatoon’s Ward 3 city councillor David Kirton called on the provincial government in a letter to step up and assist in dealing with homelessness, addictions and mental health in the city.

Kirton said that the since the Saskatoon Tribal Council’s Emergency Wellness Centre has opened in the Fairhaven neighbourhood, stores have had to hire more security and more needles have been found discarded in nearby parks.

He submitted a letter to Premier Scott Moe and ministers Everett Hindley, Gene Makowsky and Paul Merriman asking for a review of the Wellness Centre and that a working group consisting of the province, the city, Saskatoon Police Service, the Saskatoon Fire Department and the Saskatoon Tribal Council be created.

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Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said he was blindsided by the letter and a review of the shelter is unnecessary.

He said if the city wants to make a difference in the operations of the shelter, it could contribute $1.5 million to aid costs and debts.

Now the Saskatoon Chamber is joining the conversation, saying the process for how shelters are established in the city should come with more consultations.

“We thought it was important to raise the question on how approval of emergency or temporary shelters come on stream and then also look at some of the requirements of some of some of the operators of those shelters to try and minimize the impacts on those who are stakeholders or living, working, or operating a business adjacent to shelters,” said Saskatoon Chamber CEO Jason Aebig.

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The Chamber proposed a series of changes to city council when it comes to the operations of temporary shelters in Saskatoon, saying that currently, the shelters exclude the public and other stakeholders during development.

“It shouldn’t be buried in a city hall process,” Aebig said.

The Chamber suggested a nine-month permit for a temporary shelter. The current timeline is 18 months.

“It would force a conversation on how the operation was forming and impacting the community much sooner in the process,” Aebig said.

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He also suggested penalties and incentives for owners and operators handling property maintenance, vandalism and other hazards near the facilities, as well as an on-site outdoor space.

“When you parachute a shelter to a building that has been built for an office, built out end to end on a property, the users of that shelter have absolutely nowhere to go,” Aebig said.

He suggested a congregating or gathering area.

In response to Kirton’s letter, Aebig said there are always going to be calls for more funding.

“Money is not a solution to every problem. We can do this differently if we want to get serious about what we have learned over the last 10 years.”

A city committee meeting Wednesday brought a motion forward to have administration look at how the city can play a role in operating regulations.

In an interview the same day, Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said that the city cannot step in and assist the Wellness Centre’s operations because it is strictly under the purview of the provincial government and that the city can only comment on land use regulations.

He also noted that the city does not have the $1.5 million that Arcand requested it contribute to the Wellness Centre’s operations.

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“We know we have to have some skin in the game, but we are also facing a $10-million deficit right now which is not the case at the provincial level. So we need to be realistic about what role we can take on or should take on.”

Clark said he knew about Kirton’s letter but hadn’t seen the final draft before it was sent to the provincial government.

He did not agree with Kirton’s request for a review of the Wellness Centre but did say the city needs to review how to ensure people in need of housing are safe.

However, he did say the city is not who people should turn to for answers.

“There is just simply no way the city can be seen as the body to address these issues,” Clark said. “The health care system, the housing system, addictions programs are run by, and under the purview of the provincial government. The city does not have these in place.”

— with files from Global News’ Brody Langager

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