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Issue of homelessness in Moose Jaw challenges existing resources (part two)

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. 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
Roost of homeless people in winter 2 (Getty Images)
In winter, the homeless must survive however they can

The responses below are presented as originally as possible while edited for length. This is part two of a two-part series regarding the homeless situation locally and in the province.

Moose Jaw Mayor Clive Tolley

Mayor Tolley provided a phone interview to on Nov. 22 in which he expressed that he was aware of the problem of homelessness and that the city is taking it seriously.

“I can tell you that the mayors and city councillors in the province have a meeting with Don McMorris every two weeks, and this issue is raised quite a bit,” Tolley said.

During his campaign for mayor, he said, he went downtown and “knocked on the door of just about every business.” So naturally, he also met Taylor Carlson at Rainbow Retro Thrift Shop. “I don’t want to speak too much for him, but he seems like a very compassionate, empathetic individual who’s trying to help people.”

“While I was there, it was getting close to closing, and he was telling people in the warming space to get ready, and reminding them to go down to (Riverside) Mission to check if there was space there for the night.”

Tolley said that seeing that situation first-hand had an effect on him. He said that the problem was primarily a provincial one, but that city council was looking into ways they might help.

Cameron Choquette, CEO of the Saskatchewan Landlord Association

The Saskatchewan Landlord Association (SLA) issued a statement in September 2020 in response to the implementation of the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program. The statement says that the SLA was not consulted on the program, “even though our members are some of the largest providers of housing to individuals on income assistance.”

The statement also says that “Since the introduction of this program in July 2019, tenants and landlords have seen significant issues with implementation, government employee conduct, and rent arrears. The most detrimental change to the SIS program was the elimination of joint and/or direct payment to landlords.”

The province announced on Nov. 12th that they are “increasing support for Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) clients with complex challenges who are at risk of homelessness.”

This increase in support takes the form of reinstating direct payments to landlords – but only for “high-needs” clients.

Cameron Choquette, CEO of SLA, was reached by phone on Nov. 23. He said that direct payments were the biggest difference between the Saskatchewan Social Assistance Program (SAP) and SIS. SAP was phased out in August 2021.

“We’ve seen an increase in arrears and evictions,” Choquette said, “because clients are not paying their rent with the money they’re receiving and our members don’t have an unlimited runway to backstop rent arrears. So we’ve seen an increase in evictions as a result.”

The reversal by the province on direct payments, Choquette said, is “a step in the right direction.”

However, the province is still working out the details of who exactly qualifies as high-needs. There is “no timeline yet,” according to Choquette, on when that framework will be ready.

Jeff Redekop, executive director of Income Assistance Service Delivery with the Ministry of Social Services

When contacted by staff, Jeff Redekop replied by email on Nov. 22. He restated the Ministry of Social Services’ position that “Help is available in Moose Jaw 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Redekop said that the SIS office at 1235 Main Street North would help with emergency shelter and that the MJ Police Service or RCMP could be contacted after hours.

 “The Ministry of Social Services continues to listen to feedback from community members following the launch of the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program.,” Redekop stated. “We’ve seen that the majority of income assistance clients are capable of managing their finances, but that some clients with high needs may need help paying their bills. The changes announced earlier this month will allow us to make direct payments of shelter benefits on behalf of clients with high needs and to offer more support to clients who need help managing their benefits.”

He said that the ministry has a process for listening to landlord concerns, and that clients' needs are being assessed on a one-to-one basis.

Redekop went on to say that the SIS program is a “whole income” approach that takes into account other money they may be receiving; from the federal Canada Child Benefit, for example. He said that SIS had increased earned income exemptions so that clients could earn more money before their benefits are reduced.

MLA Meara Conway

Meara Conway was interviewed by phone on Nov 17. Conway is the NDP’s official critic for the opposition on social services, human rights, housing, and community-based organizations (CBOs).

Conway held an emergency public consultation in Moose Jaw on Nov. 5 at the Timothy Eaton Centre. The subject was “The Homelessness Crisis & The SIS Income Assistance Program.”

She has extensive criticism of SIS and has held forums around the province she says have confirmed that the SIS program should be scrapped in favour of the previous system.

Conway said that one of the issues with SIS that isn’t getting enough attention is that it does not make fiscal sense.

“The best use of resources, fiscally, is emergency shelters,” she said. “Because if we don’t help them, they end up in the hospital, in the justice system, EMS needs to come out. I mean, we have a choice about whether to prevent the problem or deal with it downstream, and we know which one is cheaper. We know it’s cheaper and takes pressure off of our emergency services and healthcare services if we make sure these people are housed. And when we remove that option, it doesn’t force people to be self-reliant, it just means it is going to cost more later.”

Conway said SIS has made everything worse for everyone: landlords are struggling, unpaid utilities are hurting Crown corporations, CBOs are overwhelmed, and emergency services already overburdened by COVID must now also cope with increased need from SIS clients.

“It baffles the mind why they decided to do this without consultation,” she said. “It is objectively worse in every way.”

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