REGINA -- Saskatchewan's Ministry of Social Services has announced a new plan to help the province's most vulnerable residents during COVID-19.

The ministry says the plan announced on Tuesday will use existing resources, adapting policies and allocating new resources.

The Social Services Pandemic Response will provide additional funding to emergency shelters, modify service delivery models to accommodate physical distancing and the need for self-isolation. The province says the response will also help existing clients working with the Ministry of Social Services.

Clients on income assistance will continue to receive their benefits, according to the province.

Emergency shelter support

The government is giving an additional $171,000 in funding to help emergency shelters serving people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizations receiving the funding are:

  • Lloydminster Men’s Shelter
  • YWCA Regina - My Aunt’s Place
  • YWCA Prince Albert
  • YWCA Saskatoon
  • Lighthouse Saskatoon
  • Lighthouse North Battleford
  • Salvation Army Saskatoon
  • Salvation Army Regina
  • Soul’s Harbour Regina
  • Soul’s Harbour Moose Jaw

Modifications to service delivery model

The province says it's adapting the Cold Weather Strategy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If emergency shelters can't meet the needs of people or families due to capacity pressures, the province will fund emergency hotel stays and transition clients to permanent housing.

If a client needs to self-isolate, the person will be transition to accommodation in a hotel or individual housing unit. The province says there are around 1,700 vacant Saskatchewan Housing Corporation units in 29 large communities to help people impacted by COVID-19. There are also 1,200 units in smaller communities.

Support for children, youth and families

The ministry is working with the Saskatchewan Youth in Care and Custody Network to delay transitions to independence for young people. Anyone "aging out" of care during the pandemic won't be transitioned out of their current housing, the province said.

Families receiving the Child Care Subsidy will receive full-time benefits, retroactive to March 1, to help with the cost of licensed childcare with schools closed.

Housing in Saskatchewan

The Saskatchewan Housing Corporation will start accepting applications for the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit on April 1. The benefit was developed through the National Housing Strategy.

It's available to renters who are tenants of community housing providers, pay more than 50 per cent of their income on rent and utilities, have incomes and assets below the program's limits, or are not receiving any other government benefit.

Households needing one bedroom with receive $150 a month, two bedrooms will receive $200 a month and three or more bedrooms will receive $250 a month.

Protective equipment for child protection workers

Frontline child protection workers will be outfitted with personal safety equipment, safe work guidelines and training on how to protect themselves.

When possible, workers should try to avoid direct contact.

Social services offices

Social services offices will stay open, with some changes to their hours.

The first hour every day will be reserved for vulnerable people, including those with disabilities or helath problems.

To minimize direct contact with staff, clients are asked to only come to the offices if there is an emergency and they are unable to call their worker.

Social services have also temporarily suspended financial reporting requirements.

NDP Response

Opposition leader Ryan Meili said in a statement that the government’s response is not enough compared to other provinces.

“Other provinces acted much more quickly and much more substantially, including Alberta, which committed $30 million over a week ago to support shelters and frontline organizations.”

“$171,000, divided between ten shelters, is a far cry from that level of support. It simply won’t come close to addressing the needs people are facing, with many organizations needing to hire additional staff and make changes to their facilities to allow their clients the space for physical distancing.”

Meili added that the NDP is disappointed in the lack of support for testing sites in downtown centres in Saskatchewan cities.