Sask. organizations call for more shelter spaces and support in wake of 2 freezing deaths

Organizations who work with homeless and vulnerable populations in Saskatchewan are concerned as the province’s frigid winter gets underway.

Advocates say province’s most vulnerable need to be protected

Saskatchewan's harsh winter is underway, prompting organizations to call for more support for homeless and vulnerable populations. (Heywood Yu/The Canadian Press)

Organizations who work with homeless and vulnerable populations in Saskatchewan are concerned as the province's frigid winter gets underway.

Saskatoon police confirmed they found a man's frozen body outside City Centre Church on Sunday.

The death is not considered suspicious, according to police, but they are still awaiting results from the coroner's office. Police did not release the man's name. 

That same Sunday, Prince Albert police discovered the body of Wallace Bird, 52, behind a business in the 800 Block of 15th Street East just before 8 a.m. CST.

His death was also not considered suspicious, police said.

The overnight low temperature in Saskatoon on Sunday was -17.9 C, according to Environment Canada. In Prince Albert, it was -11.5 C.

With Saskatchewan's harsh winter only just beginning, these deaths and the potential for others are prompting organizations to call for more shelter spaces and support.

"There has to be places for people to be able to go, particularly in those winter months where our climate then becomes a danger for sure," said Donna Brooks, executive director of YWCA Prince Albert.

More than 80 people die from exposure to the cold in Canada every year, according to Environment Canada.

From 2007 to 2017, 146 people have died in Saskatchewan due to cold exposure, according to statistics released by the Office of the Chief Coroner. 

Donna Brooks, CEO of the YWCA in Prince Albert, said the city needs a permanent homeless shelter. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

No permanent shelter in Prince Albert

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan's third-largest city, doesn't have a men's shelter or permanent homeless shelter.

YWCA Prince Albert opened a cold weather shelter with 30 beds on Nov. 1 and other organizations offer a few beds.

Brooks said the city needs a permanent shelter.

"There's no permanent shelter for the rough-sleeping client group, the client group that are sleeping on the street," Brooks said.

"Beyond the fact that we don't want people freezing to death in our country, if we have a permanent shelter where people can find a bed each night, they'll have a lot more access year-round to the services that are available to them."

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne is interested in having a permanent shelter. He recently presented a motion to engage with the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) about having a shelter in the city similar to the one STC runs in Saskatoon. The motion received unanimous support from council members. 

Waitlist at STC downtown shelter

STC operates 75 emergency shelter beds and will soon expand its emergency wellness centre in Saskatoon.

STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said more shelter beds are needed in the city.

"Even in the summertime we shouldn't have people sleeping outside. Unfortunately, in the winter time, people want to get inside, whether they're sleeping in banks and ATM [shelters]," Arcand said in a recent interview.

"I think right now we're in a crisis and we'll always be in a crisis if we don't come together to actually make sure this is done year-round and properly."

He said there's currently a waitlist at the STC's downtown facility.

"We should just have places for people to go and make sure that investment is there," he said.

Brooks said the general public has a role to play, too. Brooks encourages people to contact emergency services if they see someone outside during the winter who is clearly in distress.

Province announces money for shelter spaces

Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky said new government funding will increase emergency shelter capacity by up to 60 spaces this winter in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. (CBC)

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced additional money for emergency shelter spaces this winter.

"Our government continues to work hand in hand with community partners to address the complex issue of homelessness," Minister of Social Services Gene Makowsky said in a statement.

The government said it will give $800,000 to community partners for seasonal cost pressures and $900,000 to increase emergency shelter capacity by up to 60 spaces this winter in Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina. 

Brooks said she doesn't know the details of the funding yet, but hopes the YWCA can use the money to extend the cold weather shelter's hours of operation. The shelter is currently open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. CST.


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