With temperatures plummeting in Saskatoon, staff at The Lighthouse Supported Living say they can’t let a lack of provincial funding force them to turn people away.
“It’s people. And they’re cold. And they deserve somewhere to sleep just like we do.” Lighthouse manager Leann McIntyre said.
The shelter has been forced to reduce its hours and was turning people away in the warmer months due to changes in how the Ministry of Social Services funds people’s stays.
The ministry began refusing to pay for people to stay at the shelter if they already had Social Services funding to stay elsewhere, following a 2015 report by the provincial auditor.
Ministry officials said the move was meant to end double-dipping. Lighthouse management has said they see many people who can’t stay at addresses they have listed with social services: some clients are in housing that won’t let them in if they aren’t sober. Others may be fleeing unsafe living situations. In some cases, intoxicated people can’t remember where they live.
Temperatures dropped into the -20 C range late last week. With wind chill, nights have felt colder than -30 C.
McIntyre said the Lighthouse has seen the number of people looking for beds double since the cold snap started. She said staff cannot turn people away in good conscience, even if they do have to worry about what that compassion will do to the facility’s budget over the long term.
“What’s most important to us is that people are warm and safe. And if that means they come in and sleep, then they come in and sleep,” she said.
-with files from 650 CKOM’s Bryn Levy