Saskatchewan

Awareness march in Regina calls for changes to income assistance program

Payton Byrne says homelessness in Regina is going to get worse before it gets better unless something changes.

Organizer says SIS program is failing clients, leading to increased homelessness

An awareness march calling for more action on addressing homelessness was held in Regina on Monday afternoon. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Payton Byrne says homelessness in Regina is going to get worse before it gets better unless something changes.

Byrne and her sister, both of whom are part of Warriors of Hope Community Support, organized a homelessness awareness march in Regina on Monday afternoon. Participants gathered at Carmichael Outreach then walked to the Ministry of Social Services building while chanting and waving signs.

"People shouldn't be houseless. It shouldn't be a question," said Byrne.

She said several problems with the Saskatchewan Income Support program (SIS) are leading to more people being homeless.

A couple of the main problems, she said, are that SIS doesn't provide enough money for clients to cover basic living expenses — like food and utilities — and that money for rent doesn't go directly to landlords.

"When the rent goes directly to the landlord, you may not get the option to prioritize food, but you will be secured in your housing because [landlords] will know that it's coming to them. 

Byrne also said that Lori Carr, the province's minister of social services, continues to underestimate how much of a problem homelessness is in Regina. Byrne had a clear message for Carr about SIS.

"This program is failing," Byrne said.

"It doesn't matter where you're standing politically. These are humans, these are lives, these aren't numbers, these aren't dollar signs. These are real life people who are getting up out of bed to walk to you and say, 'Help me.'"

People gathered at Carmichael Outreach before walking to the social services building during a homelessness awareness march on Monday. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

In its latest budget, the provincial government increased SIS basic benefits by $30 per month and shelter benefits by $25 per month.

That means a single adult living in Regina or Saskatoon could receive $600 a month for shelter and utilities, and another $315 a month for food and all other expenses — although the amount each person receives is determined on a case-by-case basis and the person's circumstances are reviewed each month.

After question period on Monday, Carr said that the province will continue to evaluate the SIS program. She also said that most SIS clients pay their bills themselves, but that some are eligible for direct payment to landlords.

People gathered in front of the social services building in Regina on Monday to raise awareness about homelessness and call for changes to the province's income support program. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

Morley Redwood also attended Monday's march.

He's not on the SIS program, but said he used to be homeless due to addiction and knows first-hand how difficult it can be to get by with limited resources.

Like Byrne, Redwood believes SIS is one of the reasons people are struggling with homelessness.

"It is setting people up to fail," he said.

The amount of money clients receive isn't enough to make ends meet, according to Redwood, keeping many of them on the streets.

Morley Redwood was one of 50 to 60 people who attended a homelessness awareness march on Monday in Regina. (Cory Coleman/CBC)

Redwood said there also needs to be more addictions support and educational opportunities for people.

"Addictions are a big problem in Saskatchewan, anywhere in Canada, especially with fentanyl," he said, noting that he has known nine people who have died from a fentanyl overdose.

Redwood did note that if someone wants to improve their situation, they have to be willing to put in some work. 

"I just think that, you know, you want something bad enough, you need to work at getting that for yourself, like getting a job, getting educated."

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