Social Services deemed Saskatoon hotel unsafe months ago, CBC learns

Some of the city's most vulnerable citizens have been forced to leave their homes as a joint task force investigates living conditions at the Northwoods Inn & Suites.

Some of the city's most vulnerable citizens have been forced to leave their homes

Work is now underway to find housing for some of Saskatoon's most vulnerable citizens as a joint task force investigates living conditions at the Northwoods Inn & Suites. (CBC News)

CBC News has learned that Social Services deemed a hotel where some of Saskatoon's most vulnerable people have been forced out unsafe several months ago.

A Public Health probe into Saskatoon's Northwoods Inn & Suites began this month. Thirty people living at the hotel were receiving income assistance from the Ministry of Social Services.

According to Social Services, about 20 of its clients are still residing at the hotel.

"We know that some individuals are staying in temporary shelter ... some have moved away, and some are being supported to live in a different hotel," said Jeff Redekop, Social Services Executive Director of Service Delivery.

So far, the Public Health investigation has deemed 21 rooms at the hotel unfit to live in and closed for rental as they are "hazardous to health" and another 16 room as having major problems that need to be fixed immediately.

The investigation is ongoing; more rooms still need to be inspected and could also be closed.

Social Services deemed Northwoods unsafe months ago

In an internal email sent to Social Services staff in March, the director of dervice delivery for the Central Service Area advised workers that families were no longer to be placed at Northwoods Inn & Suites due to health and safety concerns.

"As of today, I am directing our staff not to use the Northwoods as an alternative for housing families and their children. The directive is in effect until further notice," stated the March 6 email.

Natalie Hubert, Executive Director of Child and Family Service Delivery, said between September 2014 and March 2015, one family was placed at Northwoods.

"The living conditions, the safety, the concerns that were being raised by families," Hubert said, explaining the need for the directive.

"We're here to help," Hubert said. "We do not want to see any family or individual in an unsafe situation."

Hubert explained the department of Social Services becomes involved in cases when there is a report of abuse or neglect or when there are concerns pertaining to poverty, addictions or housing in a family unit.

"Our commitment is to try and maintain the family together, as one unit, as much as possible," Hubert said. "As opposed to bringing children into care, we might have to find another living arrangement for the family."

In some situations, Child and Family Services will step in and place a family in a hotel when there are no other housing options and they need to leave their current residence.

Social Services: clients living at Northwoods need to check-in

Redekop said all Social Services clients who are living at the hotel, regardless of whether they plan to stay, should get in touch to secure living arrangements for June.

"We have the capacity to provide their shelter benefits if they choose to stay living at the Northwoods," Redekop said. "It may be a situation of where we are not clear on where they are choosing to live yet, and they may need to talk to us so we can understand what their needs are."

Agencies are now scrambling to find homes for people forced out of the hotel. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

This week, CBC News spoke with several aid agencies that are helping displaced people find new places to live after leaving the Northwoods. Many of the aid workers indicated that Social Services clients, living at the hotel, would not be issued a shelter allowance for June because of the uncertainty the investigation has brought to the rental situation at the hotel.

Redekop said it's not that simple. He said clients should check-in with their case workers.

"So, if they haven't come in and talked to us and if we haven't been able to find them yet, we would have the question that would need to be answered: 'where are you going to live?' They would need to answer that to make sure they are getting the right benefits," he said.


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