Saskatoon

Housing advocates concerned by high number of homeless people in Saskatoon

The latest count of people experiencing homelessness in Saskatoon found more than any previous count ever has.

550 people reported experiencing homelessness, number likely an undercount

Brenna Sych said it is extremely concerning that a recent count found 550 people in Saskatoon experiencing homelessness — and that the true number is likely much higher. (Kendall Latimer/CBC)

The latest count of people experiencing homelessness in Saskatoon found more than any previous count ever has.

Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) spearheaded the 2022 count and released some of the data Tuesday. With the help of community volunteers, it identified 550 people experiencing homelessness on April 28, 2022. 

But SHIP says the true number of people without stable housing is likely much higher. 

"That is a one-day snapshot. It doesn't account for couch-surfing and doesn't account for any kinds of hidden homelessness," said Brenna Sych, SHIP's communications co-ordinator.

Furthermore, Sych said they were short on volunteers, the day of the count was hot and it was social assistance day. 

"[With] those factors, the fact that we found more people than they've ever found in years previous just shows how big of an issue homelessness is in Saskatoon." 

Point-in-time counts happen across Canada to determine the scope and needs of vulnerable people, and inform strategies to address the issue, according to SHIP. The count typically happens every second year in Saskatoon, but the pandemic put off the 2020 count. 

The number of homeless people noted in Saskatoon has increased 15 per cent since 2018. Of those surveyed this year, 83 per cent identified as Indigenous and 49 per cent said they experience chronic homelessness, which is six or more months homeless in the last year. 

Most people said they didn't have enough income for housing and many reported struggling with changes to the social assistance program, Sych said. 

Under Saskatchewan's assistance program, an average adult living in Regina or Saskatoon could receive as much as $600 a month for shelter and utilities, and another $315 a month for food and all other expenses — although the amount each person receives is determined on a case-by-case basis and the person's circumstances are reviewed each month.

"That's not enough when rent for a one bedroom place, or even a bachelor, is $800 to $1,000. The gap there is far too large," Sych said.

Last month, in response to criticism, the province's executive director of income assistance service delivery told CBC News that Saskatchewan was among the top provinces in Canada for providing for people's basic needs with income assistance rates that are similar, if not better, than rates in other provinces. 

Saskatchewan's program has been criticized for months by frontline workers, people living in poverty and advocates who say it has undoubtedly created more housing instability. 

Sych said that even if people can drum up the money, there are still barriers to housing. People struggle with applications because they don't have a current address and have limited access to transportation. Identification issues post challenges because people can't access services without an ID or a health card, Sych said. 

Addictions

Kayla DeMong said too many people are left unsupported because housing programs do not accept people living with addictions.

Of the 550 homeless people counted, 86 per cent reported living with substance use.

"That's the biggest barrier that we're facing," said DeMong, who is executive director at Prairie Harm Reduction in Saskatoon. The non-profit operates support services for people experiencing homelessness and addictions, as well as a supervised drug consumption site and drop-in centre.

She said they struggle to connect clients with housing because they are active substance users. DeMong said more funding is needed for housing that doesn't require abstinence.

"When we look at effective models for housing people that use substances across the country, the key is that wrap-around services are available."

Sych says it's hard to know the true extent of homelessness in a city because there are many circumstances where people don't have stable housing, but they can get by using means like couch-surfing. (Matt Garand/CBC)

DeMong said beyond a roof, people need help from a case manager and counsellors who understand addiction and mental health, as well as cultural support.

"I'm sure I could find a way to find an apartment building to house people, I don't have the resources for the case management for it and the resources just don't exist to provide those large sale supports that would be required to be effective."

Sych said that the existing homelessness problem far exceeds the supports available and called for more to be done, noting the problem could grow as the cost of living rises.

"It's not just the people you see on the street. It is the children. It is family members," they said. "They could be one emergency away from being homeless."

A report with more data from the point-in-time count, as well as more context about contributing factors and services used, will be released later this summer. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer (she/her) is a journalist with CBC News in Saskatchewan. You can reach her by emailing kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

with files from Adam Hunter, David Shield

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