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Saskatoon Tribal Council holds walk to show community support for Fairhaven shelter

People gather at city hall in Saskatoon Thursday in advance of the Saskatoon Tribal Council's Walk for Truth and Reconciliation Against Homelessness, which was organized to show community support for the STC emergency wellness centre in the Fairhaven neighbourhood. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC - image credit)
People gather at city hall in Saskatoon Thursday in advance of the Saskatoon Tribal Council's Walk for Truth and Reconciliation Against Homelessness, which was organized to show community support for the STC emergency wellness centre in the Fairhaven neighbourhood. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) is hosting a walk Thursday to show community support for the STC emergency wellness centre in Saskatoon's Fairhaven neighbourhood, amidst ongoing controversy over how shelters are managed in the city.

The STC's Walk for Truth and Reconciliation Against Homelessness began at 3 p.m. CST. Attendees were encouraged to wear orange as they made their way from city hall to the shelter in Fairhaven.

The presence of the wellness centre in Fairhaven has been controversial. More than 1,000 people, most from the Fairhaven neighbourhood, have signed an online petition seeking relocation of the wellness centre, citing concerns about safety and increased crime.

STC Chief Mark Arcand said in an interview before Thursday's walk that the conversation around the shelter hasn't focused on all the good things it does.

"When we look at all the positive outcomes that we're having inside of this facility, nobody's talking about that except for us. And I think at the end of the day, we've got to focus on how we're making a difference in people's lives," Arcand said.

Arcand said homelessness is a community problem.

Supporters of the STC emergency wellness centre in Saskatoon's Fairhaven neighbourhood gather at Saskatoon city hall in advance of a rally Thursday.
Supporters of the STC emergency wellness centre in Saskatoon's Fairhaven neighbourhood gather at Saskatoon city hall in advance of a rally Thursday.

Supporters of the STC emergency wellness centre in Saskatoon's Fairhaven neighbourhood gather at Saskatoon city hall in advance of a rally Thursday. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton, who represents Fairhaven, acknowledged there are residents who are unhappy with the shelter.

"There are people within the neighbourhood who have been affected by the shelter since it was first opened," he said.

Kirton said he wants residents to understand that people in shelters are going through the toughest times of their lives, and that they need support to eventually move on to transitional housing.

"There are good people within the EWC [emergency wellness centre] who are are just struggling to make ends meet, and they need the shelter," Kirton said.

He said he hopes people in the neighbourhood can come together and have amicable conversations.

"Wouldn't it be great if we had a great big baseball game in the park outside that shelter and everybody from the neighbourhood came and we had a barbecue and we could all get together and talk to each other and realize that everybody is human and everybody has a place in our community. That would be wonderful," Kirton said.

The Fairmont facility will have staff on site to offer health services, employment and training, life skills programming, and mental health and addiction support.
The Fairmont facility will have staff on site to offer health services, employment and training, life skills programming, and mental health and addiction support.

The walk will end at the Saskatoon Tribal Council's emergency wellness centre in Fairhaven. (Albert Couillard/CBC)

Robert Pearce, a local pastor who has said he intends to run for the Ward 3 council seat in the upcoming November election, has previously said the current shelter is a "colossal failure" and should be "defunded and closed until better solutions are created."

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."

Gordon Taylor, the executive director at the Salvation Army in Saskatoon, has said their permanent shelter, which has a capacity of 85 beds, is "full pretty much every night through the winter." He has also said there is a need for more shelter beds in the city.

The Saskatchewan government says two new emergency shelters will open in the province, one in Regina and another in Saskatoon.
The Saskatchewan government says two new emergency shelters will open in the province, one in Regina and another in Saskatoon.

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

Plans for another Saskatoon shelter axed

A new temporary emergency shelter was supposed to open in Saskatoon's Sutherland neighbourhood this spring, but those plans have been axed.

Earlier this month, city council passed a motion saying that sites for emergency shelters in the future must be at least 250 metres away from any elementary schools.

That means the proposed shelter at the former Fire Station No. 5 site on Central Avenue is dead due to its proximity Bishop Filevich Ukrainian Bilingual School.

The proposed shelter in Saskatoon's Sutherland neighborhood was chosen to offer 30 beds for people with complex needs. Two neighborhood information sessions on the proposed shelter planned for this week had already been postponed twice.
The proposed shelter in Saskatoon's Sutherland neighborhood was chosen to offer 30 beds for people with complex needs. Two neighborhood information sessions on the proposed shelter planned for this week had already been postponed twice.

The shelter in Sutherland was proposed to be at the former Fire Station No. 5 on Central Avenue before plans were axed. (Pratyush Dayal/CBC)

The motion was passed shortly after community members and the city councillor who represents them expressed concern about a rise in crime, more needles in the park and the impact on school operations.

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

The city states on its website that it is continuing to support the province in its approach to homelessness through identifying sites for two new locations, each having approximately 30 shelter beds.