A decision by a Saskatchewan government social services employee to buy bus tickets to British Columbia for two homeless men is raising concerns in both provinces.
According to Caitlin Glencross, who works with the Lighthouse homeless shelter in North Battleford, Sask., the out-of-work men were applying to the province for a spot at the shelter.
But instead of getting funding to stay at the shelter — which has been locked in a funding dispute with the province of Saskatchewan — one of the men was offered a bus ticket to anywhere outside of the province, she said.
When he said he had a friend on B.C.'s Sunshine Coast, he was offered a one-way ticket on a Greyhound bus to Vancouver, Glencross said.
The second man, who managed to secure funding for a bed at the shelter, then asked for and was issued a ticket to B.C., even though he had never left the province before, she said.
"I'm almost speechless," said Glencross. "Like, I don't know what to say. We can't start shipping people off when we haven't done our due diligence in our own province. It's just not acceptable."
In B.C., Vancouver Coun. Kerry Jang called the decision "absolutely appalling."
"It just shows you, certainly with the Saskatchewan government, they have no moral compass, to just slap people on a bus and send them somewhere else."
Heading to B.C.
"I'm very shocked. I've never seen a Saskatchewan resident … given a one-way bus ticket out of the province," Glencross added.
"I was very angry, to be honest. When people are homeless, the point of contact to try and stabilize is usually a homeless shelter.… Their plan is to go to another shelter there, because they don't have a plan once they get there. And that's concerning for us."
Saskatchewan Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer issued a brief statement in response.
"I have had a conversation with Social Services Deputy Minister Greg Miller regarding reports that two young men were given bus tickets for out-of-province destinations by social service workers.
"I reaffirmed to the deputy minister that regulations require a case plan be established by workers and clients before transportation be provided. The deputy minister is also reviewing if case plans were in place for these individuals, and he will be reminding front-line workers that clients should have a plan in place before they are given bus tickets for destinations away."
Premier Brad Wall, who just started an election campaign, also responded to questions about the move.
"I'm not sure of all the details here except we're having to trust officials — this is not a political thing — we're having to trust officials that all of the proper processes are being followed, and I certainly hope that's the case," said Wall.
'Not good social policy'
Jang said the incident highlights the need for a national homeless strategy.
"If this is a trend now, if the Saskatchewan government is going to start putting people on buses, you know that is just inhumane. It is not good public health. It is not good social policy, and it really does nothing for those individuals who are on that bus," Jang said.
"It really does speak to me that homelessness is a national issue. We are seeing it in every province. We are seeing it in every city. And we really do need a national housing program."
Jang believes the situation is unusual, though, because the annual homeless counts have shown that most homeless people in the region are from the local area.
"We know from our own research here in Vancouver, the homeless in our city, the vast majority are from here in our region or our province. We don't have a lot of immigration from out of the province."
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated a social worker bought the bus ticket. In fact, a social services employee bought the ticket.Mar 09, 2016 5:12 PM PT