The responses below are presented as originally as possible while edited for length. This is part one of a two-part series.
A press release from the province on Oct. 28 stating that “Warm and safe shelter is available to everyone this winter” ignited a heated online debate. MooseJawToday.com reached out for additional comments from relevant sources regarding the homeless situation locally and in the province. This story follows several weeks of investigative journalism.
Taylor Carlson, executive director of Moose Jaw Pride, says the warming space at Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop is overwhelmed
Taylor Carlson was interviewed in person on Nov. 18 at Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop. A previously-unused room at the thrift shop has been converted to a warm-up space that is accessible during business hours. It is staffed by volunteers and supplied by donations.
Due to lack of available shelter, Carlson said, “Pretty quickly, we’re going to have someone dying in a snowbank on Main Street. I have no doubt, and it’s heartbreaking.”
Carlson said that two main factors are making this year worse than others:
- COVID-19 restrictions are keeping people struggling with homelessness out of 24-hour fast-food restaurants because they don’t have health cards or ID to be vaccinated, or if they have been vaccinated, they often lose their proof.
- Changes to Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) cut direct payments to landlords. SIS users are being given the money directly. This is a problem because many people on SIS cannot manage their own money for reasons including domestic abuse, traumatic brain injuries, addictions, or mental illness.
Volunteers at the space and staff at the thrift shop use personal phones to assist their guests in connecting to SIS. According to Carlson and the volunteers at the warming space, wait times are around two hours, and SIS staff are on lunch from 12 to 1 p.m. In an emergency, such as a severe winter storm, there is nowhere to go.
Carlson said that the situation is not the fault of SIS social workers, but of the severe lack of resources: every shelter in the city is full – waiting lists are usually several weeks. There is no women’s shelter, and the men’s shelter at Riverside Mission is down to four beds due to COVID restrictions.
“There’s nowhere at all in Moose Jaw. A city of 34,000 people, and there’s nowhere for anyone who’s homeless to go, at night or during the day… except for a 100-year-old building… being run by volunteers,” Carlson said, gesturing at the space around them. According to Carlson, they can accommodate perhaps 15 people at a time. During the first blizzard this fall, 52 people came in.
At 6 p.m., Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop must close its doors and hope its guests have somewhere safe to spend the night. “What happens after six, when we have to close… it’s shameful,” Carlson said. “There are folks out there in the cold without respite.”
Moose Jaw North MLA Tim McLeod provided the following statement by email
In response to MooseJawToday.com’s request for comment on the issue of homelessness in Moose Jaw, MLA Tim McLeod made this statement by email on Nov. 23.
“Thank you for your question regarding homelessness in Moose Jaw. The issue of homelessness in any community is an unfortunate one that the provincial government and I, as a local MLA, take very seriously.
“Through the Ministry of Social Services, anyone in Moose Jaw who needs a safe and warm place to sleep can have access to assistance by simply presenting themselves to the Social Services office at 1235 Main Street North during business hours, or to the Moose Jaw Police or RCMP after hours, and shelter will be found for them.
“The Ministry of Social Services can pay for short-term hotel stays for individuals or families who are in need of emergency shelters. We know the root causes of homelessness are incredibly complex and it will take all levels of government to address this very serious concern.”
Craig Hemingway on behalf of the City of Moose Jaw
Craig Hemingway is the city’s communication manager. He responded by email on behalf of the city on Nov. 23.
The city said that other than the warming space at Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop, support for the chronically homeless includes Riverside Mission, the Food Bank, and the John Howard Society, whose ‘My Place’ program “assists vulnerable people in finding safe housing.”
Hemingway said that homelessness is a provincial problem and that Moose Jaw and other cities have been requesting provincial changes to address the crisis.
He also said that no one from any community-based organization (CBO) has reached out to the city for help.
Jody Oakes, director at John Howard Society in Moose Jaw
Unfortunately, Oakes could not be reached for comment on this article.
However, in a public Facebook post dated Nov. 11 that directly referenced the province’s statement, Oakes said that she was “sad and hurt” and “felt deflated.”
She said that her work fighting homelessness is a 24/7 effort that is overwhelming CBOs, and that “there just isn’t enough support and services.”
Oakes said that the homelessness problem in Moose Jaw is not one to two, or 10 to 20 people; it is over 100 and “we know there (are) more.”
“…please understand that there (aren’t) places for everyone. Finding places in our city is not easy! We do not have a homeless shelter for women, who can be physically and sexually abused each day,” she said. “For our men, we have way more need than beds and not everyone can access a shelter bed for various reasons. You can’t access hotel rooms for a long period of time, winter doesn’t last a couple of nights!! Our program tries to pay for hotel rooms when needed but it becomes very expensive and isn’t a solution.”
She added, “We need a place in our community where people can access each day and have supports, we need long-term solutions!! These issues aren’t Monday-Friday 8-5 they are 24/7 365!”