Social Services Minister Donna Harpauer is defending her department’s support at the Lighthouse Supported Living shelter in Saskatoon.
“Funding has not been cut to Lighthouse. Right now the contract we have with Lighthouse is for emergency service beds. That hasn’t changed,” Harpauer said while speaking on the Brent Loucks Show Wednesday.
Harpauer said the criteria for the people who apply for funding also hasn’t changed. “We’re the funder of last resorts. So if they have other sources of funds or they have a home to go to, social services hasn’t ever covered the cost for those individuals.”
The stabilization unit at the Lighthouse is now only accepting people from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. It used to be open 24 hours, but a lack of government funding forced the unit to cancel its daytime programs.
“This particular shelter is aimed at individuals who are the most chronically homeless and who often have been kicked out of every other waiting room and 24-hour coffee shop. So there’s not a lot of places for them to go,” DeeAnn Mercier, communications director with the Lighthouse, said.
People need to pay to stay at many shelters throughout Saskatchewan, including the Lighthouse, Mercier said. And if they can’t, they have to get government funding.
But since November, she said social services has been rejecting about 50 per cent of the people who apply because they don’t fit the right criteria.
“We need to have our overnight shelters operating, we know that that’s a matter of life and death. During the daytime hours though is when we’re able to connect with them and really make that life change.”
Now, Mercier said it will be difficult to connect people with addictions counselling and housing services. Paramedics and nurses also work during the day at the unit, which accepts people who have been using drugs or alcohol, and can help those who are sick.
“We’ve been caught in a very tough place trying to help people who need it but then also not being supported to do so.”
Mercier said she’s hopeful that positive government talks will translate into policy changes.
Harpauer said they have a mandate from the provincial auditor to scrutinize the organizations managing shelters to ensure they aren’t doubling paying for someone.
“The other community based partners that we work with for emergency shelter provisions have not had this issue. “When (Lighthouse) expanded their services with the stabilization unit, their intake rose significantly which brought them under a bit more scrutiny,” said Harpauer, adding the stabilization unit was launched without their input or funding to sustain it.
Despite that, Harpauer said the province remains committed to supporting the organization and have committed an additional $150,000 to help them through this period.
In the meantime, the Lighthouse is having its Coldest Night of the Year fundraising walk on Saturday, Feb. 20. The walk starts at Station 20 West and ends at the Lighthouse, with all proceeds going towards both the shelter and The Bridge on 20th.
-With files from Brent Bosker and Bre McAdam