Saskatchewan

Regina homeless advocates say they're facing a housing crisis

Carmichael Outreach staff says $459 shelter allowance isn't enough to cover housing deemed "affordable."

Singles on assistance get $459 for monthly rent, but say average cost is $750

Gianina Burnard helps a man pick out kids clothing from a pile of donations at Carmichael Outreach in Regina. (CBC Nes)

Gianina Burnard has been homeless for most of the six years she has lived in Regina.

The 31-year-old has earned her GED and volunteers regularly at Carmichael Outreach but said she can't work due to anxiety and depression.

Her monthly cheque from Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) is about $1,000 and her rent is $800. That doesn't leave much for bills or food.

She said she hasn't paid her electricity or Wi-Fi in two months.

"I have to really budget. It's really tight. So for food it's like, what can last longer? Paying bills it's like priority first, like electricity. So something needs to get knocked off."

Cora Sellers, executive director of Carmichael Outreach, said last month about 60 people came in saying they had no place to live.

We're finding it extremely difficult to house people these days.- Cora Sellers, executive director of Carmichael Outreach

The province's shelter allowance rates allot $328 for rent to single individuals who are deemed employable in Regina, Saskatoon, Estevan Lloydminster and the bedroom communities outside of those cities. Those deemed unemployable or partially employable receive $459.

Sellers said the average rental cost for one person in Regina is $750.

Cora Sellers, executive director of Carmichael Outreach, said about 60 people came in saying they had no place to live last month. (CBC News)

She said the homelessness situation has grown worse since the provincial government changed its rules so that people on assistance cannot get rent top ups from Social Services unless they were receiving them prior to July 2018.

"We're finding it extremely difficult to house people these days," said Sellers. "Even though it was predicted that rental rates would go down with the increase in vacancy rates, we're not generally seeing that happen and where it does happen, there's more discrimination against those folks who are on social assistance or any sort of fixed income."  

High rental cost means people going without food, outreach worker says

Sellers said she's heard from many people who have had to take from their food budget to pay for rent, leading to an all-time high of 5,000 people being fed at Carmichael last month.

The Government of Saskatchewan says it has completed 350 affordable housing units in the last decade for those at risk of homelessness in Regina. On Thursday it unveiled six more, specifically for families.

In a statement emailed to CBC, Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said Social Services clients should contact their income assistance worker if they are experiencing financial difficulties.

"There may be additional benefits that they can access or more affordable housing options available and we want to make sure they are safe," Merriman said. "A significant area of focus for the Government of Saskatchewan has been expanding the number of housing options for individuals and families who experience significant barriers in connecting with housing.

"We continue to work to develop new housing opportunities."

'You're going to end up in a slum'

Sellers is calling on the government to reinstate the rental housing supplement program for new clients, to top up housing allowances for people who have to pay more than $459 in rent.

"To find a place for $460, you're going to end up in a slum," said Carmichael client Bob Barrett.

Carmichael client Bob Barrett says he plans to leave Regina due to high rent costs. (CBC News)

Barrett said he went to see a friend's new apartment earlier this week and describes the $460-rental-unit as decrepit, dirty and neglected.

"It's about $750 to $800 a month just to have a normal living space in a half-decent building," said Barrett.

The 64-year-old said he relies on his partial pension, but said that if he didn't live with his girlfriend, it wouldn't be enough.

"Up until a year and a half ago, I'm ashamed to say it, but it happened, I was staying at Soul's Harbour and bouncing around from friend's couches to friends couches because I couldn't afford to pay the rent," Barrett said.

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

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