'It's very, very frustrating': Saskatoon agencies call for help after man dies of hypothermia
SASKATOON -- Prairie Harm Reduction executive director Jason Mercredi wants help from the city and the provincial government as local agencies face challenges meeting demand as temperatures drop.
It comes after a man was found dead on Jan. 3 in the 2800 block of Lorne Avenue. The cause of death was hypothermia, according to the Saskatchewan Coroners Service.
“Our agency and every agency in the city I think is stretched at capacity and it’s getting quite frustrating when you feel like you’re doing all you can, but clearly it’s not enough when you have people dying from exposure to the cold,” Mercredi said.
The Coroners Service is also looking into the death of a 34-year-old woman who was found dead outside near Avenue Q South and 18th Street West around 8 p.m. on Jan. 23, when temperatures were in the -30s.
The cause of death is unknown at this time, but police said the death did not involve foul play.
Mercredi is calling on the city and the province to make more public buildings available to prevent cold weather-related deaths and reduce pressure on agencies like his that have limited capacity due to COVID-19.
“A lot of organizations are stepping up and trying to increase the capacity, but it’s still not enough for the massive amount of homeless folks we have in Saskatoon,” he told CTV News.
Mercredi said Prairie Harm Reduction is now only able to have four people in its consumption site at a time and five people in the drop-in centre.
Before COVID-19, he said they would be able to have 20 to 30 people in the building at a time.
“Somethings got to give and it feels like marginalized folks are the ones who get the brunt of this pandemic once again. Once again, we’re seeing overdose deaths and we’re seeing now freezing deaths. It’s very, very frustrating,” Mercredi said.
Marc Cheriyan, the residential services director for the Salvation Army, said his organization has also had a hard time keeping up with demand as temperatures plummet.
“As an organization, we certainly try to support everybody in need and when somebody doesn’t get the help they need, that hurts because we don’t want to see these people lost,” he said.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Salvation Army has had to cut down on the number of beds it has to allow for proper spacing in its dorms and can only take about five people in its common area at a time.
“With COVID, a lot of places are closed and that’s made things difficult so we need warm-up locations that can allow for the proper spacing and also give the services needed.”
The Salvation Army also works with the Lighthouse Supported Living and Ministry of Social Services to ensure vulnerable people have a warm place to stay, whether it’s in a hotel or shelter.
The Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership runs a cold weather strategy for the city. It works with 12 local organizations to provide warm-up locations for people in need.
However, executive director Lyn Brown said there’s a huge gap when it comes to safe places for people to stay overnight.
That’s even more concerning for her after hearing about the recent death.
“Certainly it points to the fact that we need to take a really close look at what we’re doing, whether we’re meeting the needs of our people who are experiencing homelessness and are precariously housed and end up outside and unable to find shelter,” Brown said.
“There has to be a way for us to ensure that we can mitigate those situations so this doesn’t continue to happen.”
Like Mercredi, Brown hopes this opens up a conversation with the City of Saskatoon and the Ministry of Social Services to see what gaps they can potentially help fill.