A single father says he feared his family would end up homeless in Regina with no place to turn for shelter.
Just two months ago, Robert Epp and his partner Brett Meeches were living in Winnipeg with their two young children Freedom and Mistatim plus two other children they were fostering. Epp said Meeches suddenly died in May. A toxicology report has not yet been completed.
"She died in my arms and she left me with a 16-month [old] and a four-year-old. I'm trying everything to keep my children out of the system...and trying to take care of them the best I can," he said.
Meeches was providing for the family by doing clerical work, while Epp was a stay-at-home dad, he said. When she died, the family was left with serious financial challenges.
Epp moved to Regina to be closer to family and stayed with them for two weeks, but said they were also struggling with money.
Struggles with Social Services
After trying to get help from Social Services, Epp said he was scared to end up on the street with his kids and called Mobile Crisis.
He was told there were no homeless shelters for men with children in the entire province, a fact that the Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services confirmed to CBC.
"I felt very discriminated when I was trying to get ahold of people. Doors were being shut left and right and people wouldn't take me seriously because I'm a man," he said. "If I was a woman, I could've gone into a shelter and at least had a roof over our heads."
Social Services said when a shelter stay is not available, or is not appropriate for an individual or family, it instead issues benefits to provide for a short-term hotel stay while they work on a case plan.
"We have provisions to provide benefits to support those who arrive in the province and lack financial resources for essentials such as food or shelter," a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. "The Ministry may pay for reasonable transportation, meal, and accommodation benefits."
The case plan, which the Ministry said it develops with the family, includes a method for helping them secure longer-term accommodations and supports, and details the benefits they need while they move towards independence.
Epp was eventually put up in a hotel with his children by Social Services and given Walmart giftcards to pay for his family's food and other needs.
He said he was told they could stay there until Monday, when he is expected to move into a place of his own.
Social Services agreed to help Epp put a damage deposit down on an apartment and pay his first month's rent, but he said he doesn't have the identification needed to prove his eligibility.
"I hope for somebody else in the future that Social Services will be able to help them out a little easier, make it easier for people in crisis situations like this," he said. "I never in the world would've thought that I'd be a single parent in a hotel room in Regina after what happened with the overdose. My world got ripped apart.
"It'd be nice to have them help first and ask questions later."
An effort to break the cycle
When Meeches died, Epp said the family's child tax benefits stopped coming and he was left to rely on welfare.
Although Epp said he wants to get a job, he is used to working in construction, which makes childcare difficult to find due to the early start, he explained.
The First Nations man was a victim of the Sixties Scoop who was adopted at 7-months-old.
He said he suffers from PTSD because of the abuse he faced in care, which led to issues with drugs and alcohol. The loss of culture and family and abandonment he felt affected him long into adulthood, he said.
The foster children he was looking after were taken away when Brett died, but Epp said he is most scared of losing Freedom and Mistatim, fearing that they would face the abuse and torment he did.
"As long as they stay connected to family and have love and support around them, it goes a long way for them growing up that they can be healthy, contributing adults to society in the future," he said. "I want to get settled in, get these kids some stability and a routine where they are in a safe environment with their own home."
Once his children are a bit older, Epp said he wants to go back to college to start a career that suits a family lifestyle.
For now, he is focused on getting his family a long-term residence in Regina and making some time to grieve for his partner, something he said he hasn't had a chance to do.
This story has been updated because the cause of death is unclear.Jul 19, 2017 11:49 AM CT