The leader of the provincial NDP says a recent change in funding criteria that affects vulnerable people at the Lighthouse in Saskatoon is "disgusting" and "short-sighted."
Cam Broten spoke to reporters Tuesday morning following media reports about the Ministry of Social Services initiating funding cuts, which forced the Lighthouse to cancel its daytime emergency shelter services.
'No wonder he's refused to get back into the legislature, to discuss his deficit, cuts and budget plans. He doesn't want Saskatchewan people to see how messed up his priorities are.' - NDP's Cam Broten on Brad Wall
"We've had a decade of boom, but Mr. Wall didn't save a dime, and has spent us into deficit. Now, instead of cutting his own waste, he's cutting funding for homeless shelters," Broten said in a media release before the scrum.
"No wonder he's refused to get back into the legislature, to discuss his deficit, cuts and budget plans. He doesn't want Saskatchewan people to see how messed up his priorities are," Broten said of Wall, saying those priorities include "cutting funding for homeless shelters, hospitals and schools, but keeping his entitlements and waste."
Government spokeswoman Lisa Danyluk responded on Tuesday to Broten's remarks.
"The Ministry of Social Services has not cut funding to the Lighthouse. In fact, they've just recently found an additional $150,000 for the organization," Danyluk said in a note to the media. "The funding will be provided within the current contract for emergency shelter to help them in the interim."
During that time, she said, a "sustainable funding model for [The Lighthouse's] operations and the stabilization program is examined by senior officials from health, social services, and corrections."
She also emphasized that the social services has not changed its definition of homelessness, or "the criteria for those qualifying for emergency shelter."
Lighthouse cuts programming
The Lighthouse is a homeless shelter in downtown Saskatoon that has a contract with the Ministry of Social Services. For most people who use its daytime emergency shelter service, clients have to seek out funding through the ministry, which then pays that money to the shelter, according to shelter communications director DeeAnn Mercier.
That's the money that's been cut, according to Mercier, prompting the shelter to shut down the daytime service. Its remaining emergency shelter service runs from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. CST everyday.
If a client is approved, Mercier said social services will send a form to the Lighthouse with funding to follow.
"But since about Nov. 1, they've been turning down 50 per cent of the requests," Mercier said.
In an interview with CBC News on Saturday, Mercier gave an example from last week, where "someone [was] requesting to stay at the Lighthouse, and the social worker told them, 'No, either to stay with friends or to rough it out.' So that therefore Social Services wouldn't have to pay for that person to stay."
Mercier said the temporary $150,000 from Social Services is not enough to restore the same type of service at the shelter that was offered prior to Nov. 1.
Broten said it would be better if the province "took the long view. If emergency shelters had the resources to match people with case workers, who had the time to help people get into appropriate situations – like appropriate and stable housing, mental health care or a job or job-training program."
Ministry of Social Services says nothing has been cut, changed
The contract with the Lighthouse is exactly the same, says Jeff Redekop, executive director of service delivery with the Ministry of Social Services.
"In terms of funding for emergency shelter in the province, nothing has been cut. There are no changes in terms of our per diem funding for emergency shelter," Redekop told reporters in Regina on Tuesday.
The contract with the Lighthouse includes funding for up to 61 beds per night. In the past year, the Lighthouse expanded the stabilization unit, increasing the number of beds. Redekop said the ministry also saw an increase in billings.
"We took steps to make sure that any billing that was coming to us was within terms of the contract and people with means to pay were not being double-funded," he said "So we are accountable to the province that way."
Redekop said the stabilization unit is funded, in part, through the Saskatoon Health Region.
"Bottom line is if you are in need in this province and you don't have the means to pay for a shelter, there is help available," he said, adding that people also must confirm they are making use of their resources.