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Sask. government pledges $90M to ease homelessness, addictions crisis

The Saskatchewan government is pledging nearly $90 million for a multi-year plan to address the province's crisis of homelessness and addiction.

Over the next two years, more than $40 million will fund 155 new supportive housing spaces and 120 permanent emergency shelter spaces, according to a news release from the province.

The new emergency shelter spaces will be established in Saskatoon, Regina, Prince Albert and "other communities based on need," the release said.

The government also says two complex needs emergency shelters in Saskatoon in Regina "will provide a secure and medically supervised place to go for up to 24 hours for individuals who are intoxicated and exhibiting behaviours that present a danger to themselves or the public."

During a news conference Friday morning in Saskatoon, health minister Everett Hindley called the announcement a "starting point."

"We know that there are some significant pressures there in terms of the capacity we need to be able to help people who have complex addictions and mental health issues," Hindley said.

The announcement comes after Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said his organization's emergency shelter would evict around 30 people using the facility with complex needs.

Homelessness also continues to be a key issue in Regina, where an encampment in front of city hall was a source of controversy for much of the summer.

"One of our biggest challenges has been what do we do with the really hard-to-house, those folks who are banned from emergency shelters due to psychosis and violent behaviour," Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said during the news conference.

"In order to preserve life, and then create a pathway for hope, is really what we're trying to get to and everyone is struggling with how to deal with the opioid drug crisis," Masters said.

The government also pledged more than $49 million over five years to fund 500 new addictions treatment spaces, which the government says will double the number of provincially-funded spaces.

A new central intake system will be created as well, where patients can refer themselves for mental health and addictions services.

"Winter's coming. It's getting cold out there. People are very concerned about what's going to happen," Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said at the news conference.

Clark said he would still advocate for changes to Social Income Support (SIS) payments.

When SIS was introduced in 2019, it marked a departure from previous social assistance programs where money was paid directly to landlords and utilities.

Now funds are provided to clients directly, a change which many advocates believe is contributing to rising rates of homelessness.

"I will still continue to ask for improvements to the SIS program and to reduce the number of people who are running into barriers getting ID (and) getting onto those supports. That's another piece of this," Clark said.

"But these are very important steps and I think in terms of seeing a coordinated approach to this issue that is gripping all of our cities right across the province," Clark said.

Clark noted the province's plan includes a focus on creating "smaller" facilities and said it should help reduce some pressure in Saskatoon's Fairhaven neighbourhood, adjacent to the STC shelter.

The province says it will transition to a "recovery-oriented system of care" that will help patients who need more than the typical 28 days offered under a traditional addictions treatment model.

The new approach comes as Saskatchewan grapples with hundreds of overdose deaths.

When asked, Hindley said funding supervised drug consumption is still not on the table.

"We want to help individuals break the cycle of addiction and find the appropriate treatment that they need. So that they can get on the path to recovery. That does not include supervised consumption," Hindley said. Top Stories

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