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What is the future of addressing rising homelessness in Saskatoon?

Community groups and a city councillor say there is a high need for shelters and adequate housing in Saskatoon. (Radio-Canada - image credit)
Community groups and a city councillor say there is a high need for shelters and adequate housing in Saskatoon. (Radio-Canada - image credit)

After plans for a temporary shelter in Saskatoon's Sutherland neighbourhood were axed, there is also growing pushback against the existing emergency wellness centre in Fairhaven.

But community groups and a city councillor say there is a high need for shelters and adequate housing in Saskatoon.

About 1,000 people, most from the Fairhaven neighborhood, have signed an online petition seeking relocation of the emergency wellness centre there, citing concerns about safety and increased crime.

Robert Pearce, a local pastor who has said he intends to run for the Ward 3 council seat in this November's civic election, said since the centre opened in December 2022, crime and violence have increased in the area.

Robert Pearce is a local pastor at the Fairmont Baptist Church in Saskatoon.
Robert Pearce is a local pastor at the Fairmont Baptist Church in Saskatoon.

Robert Pearce is a local pastor at the Fairmont Baptist Church in Saskatoon. (CBC)

Pearce, whose Fairmont Baptist Church is just a few hundred metres from the wellness centre, previously wrote an open letter to Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe and several government ministers outlining his concerns about the centre, including "property damage, vandalism and thefts … costing us thousands of dollars."

"We have like 106 beds. I have no doubt we have over 200 people that are homeless coming to our community hoping to get a bed because they don't know if they can get one or not," said Pearce, who has also signed the online petition.

"But if they don't get a bed, then what do they do? They're going to sleep in apartment lobbies. They're going to break in."

Pearce said he also helped mobilize support to shut down plans for the Sutherland shelter.

Distance criteria makes things difficult, councillor says

Council approved a motion last week stating that emergency shelters must be at least 250 metres away from elementary schools, which effectively shut down plans for a proposed shelter in the Sutherland neighbourhood.

Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton, whose ward includes the Fairhaven neighbourhood, opposed that motion along with Mayor Charlie Clark.

"That was a bad day for us as far as I'm concerned. I'm not a fan of the distance criteria," he said.

Kirton said there is no data available around the impacts of shelters on the neighbourhoods. He said shelters need to be distributed fairly.

David Kirton, who represents the Fairhaven neighbourhood, says he understands people are frustrated but says the shelter is much needed.
David Kirton, who represents the Fairhaven neighbourhood, says he understands people are frustrated but says the shelter is much needed.

David Kirton, who represents the Fairhaven neighbourhood, says he understands people are frustrated but says the shelter is much needed. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Referring to the petition, Kirton said he is concerned about "the growing hatred toward the homeless."

"I've been calling for that particular shelter to be reduced in size for over a year now. So that's the first thing. We have to ask the second question. When they are wanting this shelter to be shut down, where would these people go?" he said.

He said he understands the frustration of residents but said it is highly unlikely the shelter would be relocated.

Kirton said the police have been putting together crime statistics and "some people in Fairhaven" will be surprised at some of the results.

"I don't think we'll ever see the shelter closed down in the near future. I think people need to accept that and look towards having a shelter with fewer beds. If we're looking to shut down the shelter, there's going to be great disappointment."

Immense need for shelters: Salvation Army

Gordon Taylor, the executive director at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon, said their permanent shelter is "full pretty much every night through the winter."

They have capacity for 85 beds overnight.

"Because there aren't enough total shelter spaces across the city, we're also operating an overnight warming centre. It's not a shelter. It's a place to get in and warm up from the cold," he said.

Gordon Taylor, the executive director at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon, says their 85 shelter beds are in high demand every day. He says their overnight warming shelter has been seeing an average of 140 people through the winter.
Gordon Taylor, the executive director at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon, says their 85 shelter beds are in high demand every day. He says their overnight warming shelter has been seeing an average of 140 people through the winter.

Gordon Taylor, the executive director at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon, says their 85 shelter beds are in high demand every day. He says their overnight warming shelter has been seeing an average of 140 people through the winter. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Taylor said they have been consistently averaging about 140 people every night in the winter and saw about 160 this week.

"It's really clearly an indicator that we need this overnight warming centre in the winter and that there aren't enough shelter spaces. It's obvious from this winter that there are not enough shelter beds in town," he said.

Taylor said he wanted to remind people that shelters being concentrated in one neighbourhood is not necessarily a good idea.

More housing needed

Kristen Thoms, executive director at Quint Development Corporation, said while shelters are needed in the city to meet acute needs, the conversation needs to pivot to understand why more people are accessing shelters and experiencing homelessness.

"Like, how are we successfully transitioning people into stable, supportive or safe affordable housing? And I think that's the question to focus on because there's a lot of factors," she said.

"We have to recognize that not everybody is going to be a homeowner and not everybody is going to be able to be successful in market rentals. We need to assess what transitional, affordable and supportive housing is missing."

She said it is a very nuanced and complex crisis that the city is dealing with. Beyond the investment, involvement and commitment from all levels of government, Thoms said more is needed from the communities themselves.

Kristen Thoms, executive director at Quint Development Corporation, says homelessness is increasing in the city and more housing is a much needed solution.
Kristen Thoms, executive director at Quint Development Corporation, says homelessness is increasing in the city and more housing is a much needed solution.

Kristen Thoms, executive director at Quint Development Corporation, says homelessness is increasing in the city and more housing is a much needed solution. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

She said Quint's affordable rental units are always in demand and the visible homelessness in the city is only rising.

"We have a zero per cent vacancy rate.… We've had over 1,000 applications through this fiscal year. The vacancy rate in the city is around two per cent or under. So, there's no place to go. Folks who have the greatest needs are often left on the fringes and are not necessarily getting the housing," she said.

She stressed that housing is a human right, and said policymakers, community members and other stakeholders should come to the table to make it available for everyone.

"We need to look at more long-term sustainable solutions."