Saskatoon mayor concerned about resources in place to help vulnerable people in Sask.

Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services has announced new aid programs for families and shelters to access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eligible households will receive as much as $250 a month

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark says he is still concerned about the resources available for vulnerable people during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark has doubts about the effectiveness of support systems in place for vulnerable people, even after an announcement from the provincial government earlier Tuesday. 

Saskatchewan Minister of Social Services Paul Merriman announced money for shelters to buy cleaning supplies, a moratorium on teens "aging out" of the system, and other changes, as part of the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also announced applications for the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit would open Wednesday.

"I remain concerned — and I listened to the announcement by Minister Merriman today — that we do not have the right level of sophistication and effectiveness of the programs on the ground that are going to be needed to ensure that when people need shelter, need housing, need access to supports, that we're going to be able to respond," Clark said Tuesday afternoon on a Skype conference call.

He said his concerns were for people who are homeless, having mental health issues or battling addition, and who now require support in shelters. More work is needed, including efforts from the provincial government, Clark said.

"There are gaps that remain that we need to tackle," the mayor said. 

"Because if some of the people who are homeless in our community end up with COVID-19, end up going into shelters or into hospitals or into homes that are unsafe in the community — and that starts to spread — it could overwhelm our health system, and create a huge challenge that we do not want to see right now."

Clark said he has contacted Merriman and other government officials about his concerns.

'Aging out' suspended during pandemic

Aging out happens when teens who have been apprehended by social services become legal adults, resulting in a loss of supports from the government. Some lose them when they turn 18, others at 21.

"The response will support vulnerable Saskatchewan citizens and the organizations that serve them by leveraging existing resources within the system, adapting policies and allocating new resources," a government news release said.

The government said the moratorium on releasing teens from the system when they legally become adults was in response to a request from the Saskatchewan Youth in Care and Custody Network.

Richard Rothenburger, outreach co-ordinator for the organization, had previously told CBC News the youth in care had expressed concern about COVID-19, as well as mental-health supports, housing stability and job prospects during the pandemic.

Shelters receiving additional pandemic funding:

  • Lloydminster Men's Shelter 
  • YWCA Regina - My Aunt's Place, YWCA Prince Albert, YWCA Saskatoon
  • Lighthouse Saskatoon, Lighthouse North Battleford
  • Salvation Army Saskatoon, Salvation Army Regina
  • Soul's Harbour Regina and Soul's Harbour Moose Jaw. 

Shelter money for cleaning supplies, not operating costs: Merriman

Aid has also been announced for several shelters across Saskatchewan. A $171,000 fund will be distributed to shelters that provide supports and beds to sleep on.

Paul Merriman, the minister of Social Services, said the province has a funding model for operating costs of the shelters and the new money is for cleaning supplies, to make sure clients are safe.

Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said the money announced for Sask. shelters is not to cover operating costs, but for supplies. (CBC)

Shelters are provided 50 per cent of their funding up front and then they are paid on a per diem basis for clients who access supports provided by the shelters.

Souls Harbour Rescue Mission in Regina is among the shelters receiving aid from the government. Joe Miller, executive director of Souls Harbour, said the bed capacity has been reduced twice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, dropping from 24 nighttime beds to 12, then eight, for physical distancing precautions.

The shelter, for men, was not at capacity when the reductions were made.

Sask. putting people up in hotels

The government also announced social services will pay for shelter for someone who must self-isolate but has nowhere to stay. A referral is required.

After hours, the referral can be obtained from Mobile Crisis Services and the Salvation Army. The government says there are 1,700 unoccupied Saskatchewan Housing Corporation units in larger communities with another 1,200 in smaller places in the province.

There are 375 unoccupied housing units each in Regina and Saskatoon, Merriman said, but did not have numbers for other cities such as Prince Albert.

The minister said on Monday he had received information about shelters in Regina and Saskatoon being overcapacity. Four people in Saskatoon and 12 in Regina had to be put up in a hotel.

The government also said families who had accessed the Child Care Subsidy will get full-time benefits retroactive to March 1, even if they had children in school. The subsidy helps low-income families pay for licensed child care. 

The ministry will also begin accepting applications for the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit on Wednesday from people who meet the criteria: 

  • Rent from a community housing provider, such as a non-profit housing provider or co-operative.
  • Pay more than 50 per cent of household income on rent and utilities.
  • Have incomes and assets below the program limits.
  • Are not receiving another government benefit to help with their housing/shelter costs.

Clients will receive a benefit based on their household composition:

  • Eligible households that require one bedroom will receive $150 per month.
  • Households that require two bedrooms will receive $200 per month.
  • Households that require three or more bedrooms will receive $250 per month.

With files from Brian Rodgers and Scott Larson

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