'Set up to fail': Prince Albert YWCA requests exemption from social assistance changes
PRINCE ALBERT -- The new Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) is "just not a good system," says Donna Brooks, CEO of Prince Albert YWCA.
"It’s set up to fail."
Prior to July 2019, SAP clients had the option to sign their cheques over directly to their landlords and utility providers. Under the new Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) rules, the entire shelter allowance will be deposited into a clients’ accounts.
“You have to have a bank account to be able to access the system. Many of our clients are unable to get bank accounts because of their previous lifestyles that include some criminality," said Rob Dunlop, supervisor of the Homeward Bound program, which is administered by the Prince Albert YWCA.
Through the program, caseworkers assist clients who frequent shelters and are homeless receive income assistance and find housing in buildings owned and maintained by the Prince Albert YWCA.
The Homeward Bound program rents out 92 apartment units and 10 houses in the City of Prince Albert.
Caseworkers have helped new clients apply for Saskatchewan Income Assistance with the new online system, which is impossible for most of their clients to navigate as most only have an elementary school education, Dunlop said.
“Our clients encounter addictions and mental health issues but also the ability to access the system itself. Somewhere around a Grade 11 or 12 level is needed,” he said.
Clients have also seen delays receiving their first cheques from SIS, according to Dunlop. Some of his clients have been waiting since early August for assistance, he said.
Brooks has asked that the YWCA in Prince Albert be exempt from the changes. The non-profit group does not have the administrative staff to handle the changes and ensure individuals pay their rents on time, she said.
“People affected by the residential school legacy weren’t necessarily exposed to the same financial management that society is expecting. We just expect that people are going to be able to get a cheque and pay all their bills and manage it,” said Brooks.
Brooks also said landlords won't keep people housed when they don't receive rent money.
"They are going to kick them out. And when they kick them out, it just undoes everything that we have done to get them stabilized and set-up in supportive housing."
Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman said provincial caseworkers provide motivational interviewing and help clients set up bank accounts.
“But what we ultimately want is an individual, that is receiving social services cheques from us that they can pay their own rent and manage their own bills.”
Merriman said he plans on visiting Prince Albert to help provide clarity on the program.