SASKATOON -- The Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) is leading a new pilot project and task force to support the city’s vulnerable population and improve safety in downtown Saskatoon.

Partnering with the City of Saskatoon and the Government of Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services, the outreach team is looking to get “boots on the ground,” making contact with homeless people and helping them move into short and long term housing, while providing mental health and addictions counselling.

“The goal is to have them live on their own, right? It’s to put them in a place where they feel valued and everything else,” said STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand.

The team will make frequent visits to those people to ensure they stay on track.

“Our goal is to get as many people housed and keeping those services they need to really have them become healthier,” said Arcand.

Getting people off the streets should help to deescalate what Mayor Charlie Clark is calling a “growing tension” between people struggling with mental health and addictions issues, and downtown community members and businesses.

“In some cases there's aggressive behaviour, and sometimes there's people that are just on the streets and facing many challenges,” he said.

“And there have been also incidents where there's been assaults and other things that have happened. People are realizing that people are falling through the cracks and ending up sleeping on sidewalks, sleeping in ATM machines, sleeping in public washrooms in the community, and that that's not the kind of community we want to be in.”

Downtown YXE executive director Brett Penner says there's a genuine desire to help people and create “a better environment for everybody” but activity downtown can provide challenges for business owners.

“In some cases some of the issues that occur out front of a business or a block away can make that more difficult,” he said. “I think those people have lots of compassion for people at an individual level, but certainly there are frustrations.”

The pilot project is set to begin in the coming weeks, with the City of Saskatoon providing $100,000 and the Ministry of Social Services and Ministry of Justice matching that amount.

“Just putting them into four walls and a roof [is] not necessarily going to be successful,” said Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman.

“How can we provide the support in and around that to make sure that they have every opportunity to be successful.”