'They have nowhere to go': Advocate calls for more outreach services in La Ronge area
La Ronge's Scattered Site Outreach Program on pace to set yearly record for amount of meals served
Modeste McKenzie says he worries about finding a dead body when he gets to work.
"We have had people die in the past from exposure and that threat still exists," said McKenzie, who works at the Scattered Site Outreach Program in the northern Saskatchewan community of La Ronge.
"It's something I can honestly feel in my stomach when I think about it."
He told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition that his outreach program continues to see growing demand over time.
The program recently announced it has served 80,000 meals to those in need since 2009, with over 10,000 meals served every year since 2014 in the tri-communities — La Ronge, Air Ronge and Lac La Ronge.
It is currently on pace to serve a record amount of meals this year — over 12,000 — according to McKenzie.
"It really speaks to the level of poverty that exists within northern Saskatchewan," he said.
Those numbers reflect a lack of food security in the area, McKenzie said, as well as a need for improved mental health and addictions services.
He says homeless people feel the biggest brunt of the lack of adequate resources.
"They have nowhere to go," he said. "We're really kind of their only option."
McKenzie says many of those homeless people are sleeping outside, even with winter fast approaching.
"Right now is a particularly dangerous time of year," he said. "It's pretty stressful, not going to lie.
"Once you start seeing these folks every day, having conversations with them, you learn about their past, you learn about their families, and they learn about you as well," he said.
"A bond is developed."
More shelter needed
McKenzie wants to see a homeless shelter open throughout the year in the tri-communities, as well as improved mental health and addictions services.
He says many of the program's clients are trying to improve their situation but don't have the resources to do so.
"There is not a lot of support for those folks who are trying to sober up, who are trying to find meaningful employment. It can be very difficult," he said.
McKenzie says he hopes these issues get brought up during the province's fall legislative assembly, which began Wednesday, especially with recent cuts to programs in northern Saskatchewan.
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In the meantime, he says communities in northern Saskatchewan have been pitching in as much as they can.
"There's no way we would have been able to serve 80,000 meals without the donations that we have received from this tri-community area."
McKenzie also encourages people around the province to connect with local outreach centres to offer help.
"Anything you can spare, it's deeply appreciated."
Scattered Site Outreach Program also has a needle exchange program, laundry services and shower facilities for those in need.
Hear the full interview with Modeste McKenzie here:
- With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition