'It's kind of scary': Regina shelter sees spike in need for homeless

Regina's Souls Harbour Rescue Mission and Carmichael Outreach Centre have seen an unusual increase in demand this summer.

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission has had to turn people away because of increased demand

Souls Harbour is scheduled to move into a new building in December. (Tyler Pudlubny/CBC)

This summer has been anything but relaxing for Regina groups that help marginalized people. 

According to Carmichael Outreach Centre, many of the city's shelters are full. The non-profit helps people experiencing poverty and homelessness obtain housing, food and clothing. It also provides educational, health and harm reduction support.

In recent months, the centre says frontline workers have seen an unprecedented spike in need.

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission is one of the groups feeling stretched.

"It's been a tough summer," said Deana Struble, marketing manager at Souls Harbour.

During the summer months, Souls Harbour has 12 available beds. However, it can expand to 16 if necessary. 

"We have been filling our beds, which is a little odd," she said.

Deana Struble is the marketing director at Souls Harbour Rescue Mission. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Struble said the increased demand is unusual in the summer because people are more inclined to sleep outside in the warm weather.

As a result of the influx, the shelter is having to send people elsewhere.

"It's always hard to turn people away, but you can only do what you can do," she said.

From 200 meals to 250

She says the soup kitchen has seen an increase as well.

During the spring, Souls Harbour was serving about 200 meals per day from Monday to Friday. Over the summer that number has risen to about 250 meals per day.

Struble noted the increase is causing a strain on the shelter's resources, especially since they depend largely on volunteers and donations.

"Our soup kitchen runs off of mainly volunteers, so when our numbers go up we need more volunteers," she said.

Deana Struble from Souls Harbour says the soup kitchen served about 200 meals per day in the spring but that number has since jumped to about 250 meals per day. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

"We are really doing a drive right now for volunteers."

According to Struble, Souls Harbour does not receive any provincial funding for their emergency services, which makes donations crucial.

"We have financial donors, but we also have people that bring food donations," she said.

"When we need to feed more people we need more food donations, so we're always looking for more donations, especially fruits and vegetables." 

Struble says they have been able to hand out blankets to people who are turned away, thanks to a large donation, but that's only a temporary solution.

"The cold weather is coming and it's kind of scary," she said.

Call for tents

Earlier this month, Carmichael Outreach Centre put out a call for donated tents. It was the first time the non-profit has needed to hand out tents for shelter.

Cora Gajari, executive director of Carmichael Outreach, said the majority of shelters in the city have been reaching full capacity throughout the summer.

Since the outreach centre asked for donated tents, Gajari say they have given out 25 in just over two weeks.

"We're horrified that we have to give out tents," said Gajari.

Cora Gajari, executive director at Carmichael Outreach Centre, says she has never seen such a sudden influx of people in the five years she has worked at the centre. (Tyler Pidlubny, CBC)

"People are vulnerable to begin with and this isn't really shelter per se, it's like desperate, emergency situations and it still leaves people very vulnerable."

Housing program cut to save $5 million

Gajari has been working at the centre for five years and says she has never seen such a sudden influx of people.

She attributes the increase to the province's cancellation of the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement Program. The program stopped accepting new applicants in July 2018.

The supplement helped welfare recipients and those with disabilities afford better rental housing. People who qualified received anywhere from $84 to $364 per month, on top of regular Social Services benefits.

In an emailed statement from Paul Merriman, Minister of Social Services, he said the government will continue to provide benefits for clients who were eligible as of June 2018.

"We are committed to working together to improve outcomes for Indigenous children and families and to preserve connections to their language, culture and values," said Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman. (Trent Peppler/CBC )

"In fact, our Government is providing $46 million towards the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement in 2018-19," the statement said. "Over the past decade, we have invested over $73 million to develop over 768 affordable rental units for households with complex needs, or who are at risk of homelessness."

According to the Ministry, Regina's two government-funded shelters have not hit capacity this summer. However, one of the shelters did not have numbers for July.

New expansion

During the winter many shelters have increased resources to get people out of the cold. Soul's Harbour is no exception, especially this winter.

The non-profit is currently constructing a new building on the 1600 block of Angus Street that will allow them to have twice as many beds, serve more people in the kitchen and provide affordable housing.

"It's a big venture for us, especially when we run off donations, but we know that the city needs it and we're just stepping in where we're needed," said Struble.

The new building is scheduled to open in December.