Saskatoon's police chief says Lighthouse program cuts a step backwards

Clive Weighill said the Lighthouse program kept people off of the street, cut down on panhandling and helped citizens feel safe on the streets downtown.

Clive Weighill says the downtown shelter has been a ‘game changer’ for Saskatoon

Saskatoon’s police chief says the cut to daytime emergency shelter services at the Lighthouse is “a step backwards”. (Don Somers/CBC)

Saskatoon's police chief says the cuts to daytime emergency shelter services at the Lighthouse is "a step backwards".

"I believe the Lighthouse has really been a game changer for Saskatoon. It has allowed us to have a place where the most needy people in our society have a place to go that's stable and they get treated with dignity," police Chief Clive Weighill said.

The Lighthouse is a homeless shelter in downtown Saskatoon that has a contract with the Ministry of Social Services.

For most people who use its daytime emergency shelter service, clients have to seek out funding through the ministry. The ministry then pays that money to the shelter, according to shelter communications director DeeAnn Mercier.

Since November social services stopped approving a lot of that funding, according to Mercier, prompting the shelter to shut down the daytime service. Its remaining emergency shelter service runs from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. CST every day.

Weighill said the daytime services kept people off of the street, cut down on panhandling, and helped citizens feel safe on the streets downtown.

"This was a worthwhile program and I know our officers are going to be a little bit busier downtown and it's certainly going to change, I think, the visibility of some homeless people in the downtown area," he said.

Weighill said he will be lending any support he can to the Lighthouse, as well as future funding.

Earlier this year, the Lighthouse in Saskatoon cut back daytime programming hours for people who need its overnight shelter beds. That's led to addicts and homeless people camping out next to the building during the day, along 20th Street East. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Finding a sustainable funding model

Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership was part of the original pilot project that became the Lighthouse emergency shelter stabilization program. 

SHIP executive director Shaun Dyck said the current funding model cannot be sustained.

"Most shelters across the country have block funding. Per night funding makes it difficult to make it work," he said.

He said when shelters are dealing with a "maybe" for funding, the stability of the entire system is impacted. The repercussions, according to Dyck, are a strain on a lot of other services.

Dyck said the shelter has helped reduce the numbers of people in police cells and emergency rooms, as well as the number of people living and sleeping in cold weather and getting injured. 

Since the cuts, Dyck said there's already been an impact on the city's most vulnerable.

"There is a sign up at the Lighthouse now saying if you don't have funding your bed is closed and if you haven't gone to social services you won't be given any meals," he said.

"There [are] no exceptions. Your bed will be reopened when you have funding documents either faxed or brought."