Sask government casts doubt on future of Saskatoon's Lighthouse

The government of Saskatchewan says the Lighthouse's stabilization shelter does not serve enough "eligible" clients, and its operating funding is being cut. Officials say only five people made the transition into stable housing last year.

Only 5 people transitioned to stable housing last year, say officials

Earlier this year, the Lighthouse cancelled its daytime programming for the stabilization unit, which is specifically for people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Now, long lines form outside the building until the shelter opens at 4 p.m. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

The government of Saskatchewan says the Lighthouse's 38-bed emergency stabilization unit in Saskatoon is not producing results.

Officials said only five people who sought refuge at the Lighthouse last year were able to transition to stable housing. 

Citing the provincial auditor's report last December, officials in a news release today said a recent review showed "many individuals were receiving shelter services through multiple avenues."

Right now, individuals are asked to pay $30 per night to stay at The Lighthouse.

Emergency shelter coverage reduced

Those who cannot afford the overnight fee must prove to the Ministry of Social Services they have nowhere else to go. If officials approve the request, a per diem for $68.50 per night is sent to the Lighthouse.
The Lighthouse has three sections: overnight beds in its stabilization unit, transitional housing, and a supported living unit which opened in 2012. (Don Somers/CBC)

However, Lighthouse staff noted last year almost half the people who come seeking shelter were denied any coverage by the province.

Most often, that's because the province has already paid the person's rent elsewhere.

Last year, the province said it spent $1.15 million on the Lighthouse, to support 61 shelter beds per night. Officials said the Lighthouse's billing procedures have been restructured, to avoid double-dipping. 

Nowhere else to go

Shaun Dyck, executive director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, warned that any cuts to emergency stabilization beds will push more heavily intoxicated people onto the streets. (CBC)

People who work with the homeless say the people who end up in emergency stabilization beds aren't necessarily following any policies set by government.

"They've ended up at the stabilization shelter for a reason," said Shaun Dyck, executive director of the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership. "Maybe they can't remember their address because they're too intoxicated. Or there might be a risk of violence if they go home."

"Regardless of the reason, they need somewhere that's safe to sleep," Dyck said.

The Lighthouse has typically absorbed the cost of shelter beds for those who cannot pay largely through donations and other sources of income.

Police say emergency shelter beds save lives

Saskatoon police Chief Clive Weighill said there are up to 25 per cent fewer people being booked into police detention cells since the Lighthouse expanded its emergency beds.

We firmly believe people with addictions should not be placed in a cell block.- Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill

He praised the partnership between Saskatoon's health region and the Lighthouse to offer the emergency stabilization shelter beds.

"It was only three years ago we had three deaths in cells in a year and a half period," said Weighill. "A lot of this was attributable to people that are being arrested, we don't know what they've ingested, they go into detention and they don't wake up."

"It's made a big difference to the police service to not have those people locked up," said Saskatoon police Chief Clive Weighill. He said the Lighthouse emergency stabilization beds are a better option for heavily intoxicated people. "They're there with dignity, they have a safe place to stay." (CBC)

Weighill said he hopes to get more clarity soon on the government's funding intentions for the Lighthouse.

"We firmly believe people with addictions should not be placed in a cell block," said Weighill. "It's imperative that people with addictions don't get housed in our cells."

In a news release, the province noted it will continue to support people who do not have an alternate source of shelter, or shelter funding. The Ministry of Social Services said it's under contract to provide $762,000 in base funding to the Lighthouse, and that will not change.

The Saskatoon Health Region said it's paying $623,250 this year to ensure there are nurses, mental health counsellors, and other supports for addicts seeking shelter at The Lighthouse, a move aimed at reducing emergency room visits.

The Ministry of Social Services said it pays for 470 emergency shelter spaces across the province, through the Lighthouse, the Salvation Army, the YWCA, and other partners.