Saskatchewan

'Setting people up for failure': Urgent meeting called over Sask. social support concerns

The Ministry of Social Services is loosening its policy on limits for emergency shelter stays under the new Saskatchewan Income Support program, but homeless support groups from across the province are meeting on Monday to mobilize against other SIS changes amid concerns about increasing homelessness. 

About 70 to 80 people expected at provincial meeting about new Saskatchewan Income Support program

Chris Randall is the front line manager at The Lighthouse Supported Living, which runs an emergency shelter in downtown Saskatoon. (Alicia Bridges/CBC)

The Ministry of Social Services is loosening its policy on limits for emergency shelter stays under the new Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, but homeless support groups from across the province are meeting on Monday to mobilize against other SIS changes amid concerns about increasing homelessness.

Between 70 and 80 people are expected at the meeting Monday, which was organized in response to social worker concerns about the SIS changes. 

Shaun Dyck, the director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, said the meeting will include people from a variety of sectors.

"We're inviting people to join us for a day of conversation and planning so we can work together to mitigate challenges and ensure that the province's most vulnerable people are not left behind," said Dyck. 

"We put it together fairly quickly but we realized that time is of the essence with winter coming up." 

The goal is to gather information to take back to the province and push for changes to SIS, which was introduced in June to replace two other programs.

The Lighthouse Supported Living, which runs an emergency shelter, is one of the organizations attending the meeting. 

In October the Lighthouse shelter is already busier than it was last winter. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Lighthouse frontline manager Chris Randall said that since June, when the changes were introduced, the Lighthouse has been covering the cost of housing clients after they reach a $500 limit on emergency shelter funding provided through SIS.

The maximum amount under SIS only covers five nights at the Lighthouse. He said that is not long enough to find housing for many of the people the shelter is serving.

"As you can imagine we work with some of the hardest to house, individuals who have struggled with housing chronically, have long episodes of homelessness or chronic homelessness," said Randall. 

He said the shelter has been carrying the financial burden of housing people once the provincial funding runs out.

Randall said he was told Friday the $500 limit would be extended based on need, but he is still waiting for more information about what circumstances would qualify a person for more funding. 

We've had landlords who say they won't rent to people on the new SIS program.- Chris Randall, front line manager at The Lighthouse Supported Living

The Ministry of Social Services confirmed the policy has changed.

"While the $500 threshold is sufficient in most situations the SIS policy has been updated to provide clarity for staff in situations where it may take longer to implement a plan with families and individuals to access long-term housing," said the ministry in a statement. 

It said the new policy would be on the government's website "shortly."

Representatives from the ministry were invited to participate in the meeting next week and will provide a presentation about the Saskatchewan Income Support program.

"We look forward to attending and hearing any concerns or suggestions for improvement directly from our community partners," the ministry said in a statement.

Rental payments create problems

Another SIS element raising concerns is that the program pays $575 monthly for rent and utilities directly to the client. 

Previously the ministry made those payments directly to the landlord or service provider. 

"We've already had instances where individuals are unable to provide that as a rental payment to their landlord," said Randall. 

"And we've had landlords who say they won't rent to people on the new SIS program. The new program we think is setting people up for failure."

He added that people receiving SIS are often struggling to manage the basics due to addiction, mental health and trauma. 

Randall said community groups have been talking among themselves about issues and concerns in the lead up to Monday's meeting. 

He said the meeting will be a chance to "criticize and address those criticisms as well."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alicia Bridges is a former CBC Saskatoon reporter who is now working in Australia.

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