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Emotions run high at Saskatoon shelter meeting

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It was standing room only as over 300 people crammed into a small gym in Sutherland to hear what Councillor Darren Hill had to say about a planned emergency shelter.

Some residents seem ready for a fight with the city over the choice of location — the former Central Avenue fire hall — which they worry will put children and others in the neighbourhood at risk.

“I’m angry and no one talked to us. Enough, tell me the solution, I’ll do it,” Bryony Colin, told the standing-room-only crowd Sunday.

She lives across the street from the fire hall and spoke to the crowd holding back tears.

“I was angry and frustrated to not to be talked to beforehand. It feels like I am worthless,” she says.

It was a sentiment held by many at the meeting about the planned shelter location that was revealed in January.

A single mother, Olena Yermaokva who arrived in Saskatoon last year from Ukraine also addressed the crowd saying, she was given housing in the apartments beside the upcoming shelter by Sask Housing which she is grateful for and was happy to be living in, until now.

“I was promised safety. I’m very disappointed because we’ll not feel safe,” she said.

Yermaokva works early in the morning and she relies on a neighbour, also a single mother to walk her 9-year-old son to school about a block away which means passing by the shelter.

Bryony Colin addressed the standing room only crowd Sunday. (Carla Shynkaruk / CTV News)

The event saw dozens waiting outside beforehand, eventually squeezing into the gym. It was hosted by Ward 1 Councillor Darren Hill.

“We heard the refugees from Ukraine speaking passionately about how they came to Canada for safety and how that’s being taken away from them,” Hill said.

Those refugees are parents from Bishop Filevich Ukrainian Bilingual School where over 100 new students have come — fleeing the trauma of war.

“Please help us. Help children which study at this school and people who live in this area,” Ukrainian mother, Oksana Hushliak told CTV News.

Others who live in the area who were also at the meeting like single mother Carmela Pawlowich whose daughter goes to Sutherland School. They also live in the apartments beside the fire hall.

“The children in the building run around outside and in the hallways to each others’ apartments and I don’t think that will be safe for them anymore,” Pawlowich says.

There were two Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Board trustees in the crowd who faced criticism for not communicating with school families since the shelter was announced. Vice Chair Ron Boechler and Wayne Stus informed the crowd that they heard the information about the shelter when the general public heard last month.

“The only answer we have from the city is 'wait for these community consultation meetings,'” Trustee Wayne Stus told the crowd.

There were business owners in attendance as well as residents of Fairhaven — where a shelter opened in late 2022.

Darren Hill made it clear that he’s been opposed to the shelter and the closed-door decision-making process.

“It’s ridiculous that those discussions happen behind closed doors. I apologize that it did,” he says.

Hill also mentioned he has been seeking answers from The Mustard Seed, the Alberta non-profit which will run the shelter about how shelter residents will be given support.

The consensus from those who addressed the crowd Sunday was that they hope the decision can be reversed. One of the plans is to put pressure on city and provincial governments through letters and emails in the hopes that their voices will be heard.

The city had an information meeting scheduled for February 13 (virtual) and 15, which have since been cancelled.

In a news release Friday the city said the plan requires more time to ensure the best outcomes and to meet the exactions of Sutherland residents, businesses, and workplaces.

The city plans to reschedule the info sessions within the month of February. 

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