How Saskatoon community groups are helping people who are homeless, vulnerable keep safe amid COVID-19 pandemic
SASKATOON -- Job losses and lost income because of COVID-19 have put some already vulnerable people at risk of losing their homes.
That’s why a group of community organizations have banded together to set up a makeshift social assistance hub at the White Buffalo Youth Lodge on 20th Street West.
“We knew the community still needed some level of service but we wanted to make sure we could do that in a safe manner and wasn’t going to spread COVID-19,” said AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi.
"We have different stations set up there so people can get the service they need but our staff can stay safe, clients can stay safe and we can maintain safe social distancing standards."
Operating Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Mercredi said they have staff from organizations across Saskatoon, working on a rotating schedule to help people file applications to access the various government assistance programs.
The most sought after help is finding a home, Mercredi said.
"Getting into a housing unit so they can successfully self-isolate is difficult," he said.
“We have a number of private landlords that we work with and we’ve pretty much exhausted those housing options and so right now we’re working with government to get them into Saskatoon Housing Authority stock so we’re hopeful we’ll be able to re-house everybody that comes down here.”
Mercredi said the hub has helped find homes for 40 people so far.
Mercredi estimates around 80 people have come through the gym doors at the youth lodge, but as the pandemic deepens, more people could find themselves in a tight spot and needing help.
“Some people’s living conditions are not safe they cannot successfully self-isolate so it’s different, and each person is very unique in their needs so we’re trying to meet their needs,” he said.
STC food program sees drastic growth
At the other side of the lodge, the Saskatoon Tribal Council continues to run a food delivery program for the urban Indigenous population. Chief Mark Arcand said before COVID-19 hit Saskatchewan the service had 100 families. Today, the program has grown to 375 addresses.
“Our numbers keep growing daily. Our staff have been reassigned as essential services delivering food to people,” Arcand said, adding he expects the number to grow to 900 as the stay-at-home orders continue.
“We’re not asking people to come to White Buffalo, it’s a online survey, if they don’t have internet access they can call the lodge and get signed up for the program,” he said.
With the STC funding the program to the tune of $5,000 a week, he said he’s waiting on funding from the provincial and federal governments to help the STC sustain this growth in demand for meals.
“We haven’t heard a positive answer yet, we’ve got no funding from the province,” he said, adding there’s only a small portion from Ottawa to help urban reserves feeling the pinch. The deadline for that roll out is April 13.
Arcand said the STC received a $10,000 donation from another local organization, which has allowed them to keep up with the demand but he’s looking for more support from the community.
For those looking to contribute to the hub centre, Mercredi said both the Saskatoon Community Foundation and United Way Saskatoon are collecting donations.