Prince Albert shelter seeks more support from Sask. government for homelessness crisis
A homeless shelter in Prince Albert is pleading to the province to provide long-term funding to address the city’s “perfect storm” for poverty.
The Stepping Stones shelter, operated by the YWCA, opened at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when the winter shelter at Our House couldn’t accommodate proper physical distancing.
YWCA CEO Donna Brooks wants to keep Stepping Stones open long-term.
“We absolutely do need sustainable funding instead of trying to piecemeal it together every year,” Brooks said.
The Prince Albert Grand Council and Metis Nation – Saskatchewan funded the shelter during the summer. Heading into the winter, Brooks said temporary COVID-19 funding from the federal government is paying for 17 beds, while Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Social Services is funding three.
Still, Brooks said the shelter turns away around 10 people every night.
“It’s been this ongoing struggle with the province. I don’t know if they’ll ever come forward,” Brooks said.
“Last year, for sure, we built a super strong case and then we were told ‘Well, we don’t know for sure that it’s needed.’”
Brooks said the provincial government funds the YWCA’s youth and women’s shelters, but through other ministries.
She said Stepping Stones, a standalone shelter providing services such as showers and meals, costs between $600,000 and $800,000 a year.
In an emailed statement, Chad Ryan, acting executive director of Income Assistance Service Delivery with the Ministry of Social Services, said its renewed contract includes $37,800 for operation of the Stepping Stones shelter between October and March.
“(Funding is) based on the number of eligible clients served in the prior year. We encourage the YWCA to contact the ministry if there are more eligible clients than accounted for in the contract. The ministry may provide additional per diems on a case-by-case basis.”
‘WE HAVE TO HUDDLE TOGETHER’
Jamie Naytowhow, 30, has been living on the streets since he was 11 years old. During the winter, he said he mainly couch jumps for a warm place to sleep at night.
“It’s normal, I guess. I know my ins and outs of the street,” he said.
“I could work. I’m a hard labourer, I work hard, have a lot of ambition. It’s just my criminal record, my drug use.”
Naytowhow said most of the people he knows in similar situations are IV drug users. He feels having a safe consumption site, where they could also access other services, would help with the city’s homelessness problem.
“I know that there would be the odd few that go out and still do it, but if most of us had a place to go to go do it, we’d appreciate it.”
Vargil Nelson Jodd said he usually sleeps outside.
“A lot of days I go without food, but I still survive through the generosity of the street people. They will actually take their shirts off their backs to give to you, to help you out,” he said.
Jodd said Prince Albert needs more shelter space.
“We have to huddle together,” he said about the cold winter nights.
“If we have a blanket, we share it.”
A Point-in-Time (PiT) count done in March 2021 showed 97 people in Prince Albert self-reported that they were homeless. Most were between the ages of 25 and 44.
In comparison, a 2018 PiT count in Regina showed 286 people were experiencing homelessness – Regina has a total population of about 230,000, while Prince Albert has about 36,000.
Brooks said funding homeless shelters saves money in the long-run.
“What you’re saving in police and ambulance calls alone is unbelievable because where is everybody going to go in the winter if you don’t have this?” she questioned, adding that shelters also refer clients to other services for addictions, mental health and housing.
She added that changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, which prompted a “tent city” in Regina’s Pepsi Park, has led to an increase in evictions.
“We’ve had homelessness in the past, it’s always been there, but it’s been manageable,” Brooks said.
“There’s just so many loopholes. What we’re seeing is a perfect storm for homelessness.”