Square One Community Inc. is ramping up efforts to find and provide shelter for the city’s housing-insecure population by beginning a collaboration with the Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing Corporation (MJNPHC).
Square One is a community-based organization (CBO) formed in 2021 with the goal of supporting and advocating for people who don’t have reliable housing options. The organization follows Housing First principles, which state that before any other services are provided — addiction recovery, mental health and other medical treatments, or relationship violence, for example — people need a safe place to live.
The issue has become more urgent since the dissolution in September of Moose Jaw Pride and the closing of its Rainbow Retro Thrift Store.
The warming space at Rainbow Retro was the only place in the city last winter offering low-barrier shelter during dangerous cold weather.
Crystal Froese, vice-chair of Square One, said that the MJNPHC contacted Square One to explore what a partnership might look like.
“We are looking at the operational sides of filling gaps in our community,” Froese explained. “But we don’t have a roof, so to speak… . It makes really good sense to collaborate.”
The MJNPHC brings years of property management expertise to the table. The organization operates several properties in the city specifically for people experiencing housing barriers.
“In all my years working with boards and non-profits and specifically the Moose Jaw Non-Profit Housing Corporation, the times we’ve succeeded the most in making a needed change and increased impact for the community of Moose Jaw is when we’ve collaborated with other agencies with shared vision and purpose,” said Brenda Walper-Bossence, K.C., president of MJNPHC.
Expanding inter-agency co-operation
The Square One board are bringing their expertise in systems navigation and in the inter-agency collaboration they’ve achieved so far. Froese, in particular, has worked to bring concerned organizations to the same table.
A Jan. 6 meeting organized by Froese was attended by EMS, Moose Jaw Police Service, John Howard Society, Social Services, Transition House, the local MLAs, Mayor Clive Tolley, and others.
Another meeting of those stakeholders took place Oct. 5, shortly after Square One announced their new partnership.
“I just got off the Zoom meeting just a moments ago, with agencies across the city,” Froese told MooseJawToday.com. “(We talked about) the increase that we’re seeing on our streets and people sleeping in the parks, and the initiatives that are going on around that.
“The work that continues to be done is very important and definitely has an impact, but the gap is getting bigger.”
Froese highlighted the loss of the Rainbow Retro warming space alongside the lack of a low-barrier dedicated women’s shelter — a gap in services that has been lamented for years.
“We know there is no warming centre anymore in our city, and there’s no emergency overnight shelter for women in our city. Those are two very key places we are working to find a solution for immediately. And when I say immediately, I mean in the next couple of months, before winter arrives.”
Part of the problem is a lack of data. Froese said that Square One was going to take leadership on finding out exactly how many people are housing-insecure — one of the main barriers to obtaining government help and funding.
Last winter, John Howard Society’s director Jody Oakes and her caseworkers were often out on the city’s street at all hours of the night, during blizzards and -40 cold snaps, trying desperately to help their clients and anyone else they spotted.
Oakes told MooseJawToday.com at that time that there were, at the least, 100 people without anywhere to go — and hundreds more whose housing was unpredictable, insecure, barter-based, and even violent.
However, without exact names and numbers, tax returns, and various other records demanded by Ministry of Social Services, most people are unable to adequately access social assistance.
Froese said that that model needs to change. She asked how a person could reasonably be expected to get a job, recover from an addiction, care for their family, or achieve financial stability, all before obtaining stable housing.
It is backwards, she said, and the same money is being spent over and over because people are expected to prove they deserve help before help is offered.
“People are seeing it everywhere. I don’t know how much more proof you need to know that there’s a need for significant funding. … Once you see a person and are able to get them into a warming centre or emergency care, then everything has to click into place to help that person navigate into better choices and a better lifestyle, and that all has to be one right after the other.”