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In wake of credit union's planned closure, Prairie Harm Reduction defends its work

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Saskatoon’s Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR) is defending its place in Pleasant Hill after facing what it calls “accusations regarding its alleged role in the closure” of a neighbourhood credit union.

On Wednesday, Affinity Credit Union announced it was closing its St. Mary’s branch near 20th Street and Avenue P for “significant safety concerns.”

Mayor Charlie Clark told CTV News the area was a hotspot, “between the hospital, Prairie Harm Reduction, and the activities around there and a lot of the services.”

PHR Executive Director Kayla Demong says it feels like her organization is being characterized as a cause of social issues in the area, rather than a response to them.

“There have been assertions that link us to the rising number of homeless individuals in the vicinity, suggesting that our departure from the neighborhood is the solution,” she wrote in a letter to CTV News.

She says the reason Prairie Harm Reduction — formerly AIDS Saskatoon — moved to the area was precisely because their data identified it as a significant site for improperly discarded needles, HIV transmission and crime.

Since moving to Pleasant Hill, the number of people PHR supports has more than tripled, Demong said.

“Prairie Harm Reduction did not cause this surge in demand. The root cause lies in Saskatoon’s housing crisis, exacerbated by the Saskatchewan Government's implementation of the SIS Program, the closure of the Northwoods Hotel, and subsequent closures of the Lighthouse and Prairie Heights Tower on 20th Street. All of these resulted in hundreds of people being forced onto the streets.”

The homelessness crisis is a consequence of public policy, and she says it’s organizations like PHR that are actually trying to offer a secure space for people in the neighbourhood who face housing insecurity and to those who use drugs.

“If we want to make the community better, than we need the Saskatchewan government to start prioritizing support for our community members who are sleeping on the streets,” said Demong.

“We need housing and we need better access to healthcare, mental health resources, and an income assistance program that can actually pay an individual’s rent.”

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