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Joanne’s Life Story

 

** This post originally appeared in Volume 10 of the Carmichael Free Press. If you want to tell your story  on  the Free Press, please ask!

This is Joanne Wanda Bigsky. I was born on Feb 7, 1966 in a little town called Picture Butte Alberta and my mother’s name is Beatrice Bigsky and my father’s name is James Isadore Bigsky. But they are both gone.

I had 6 sisters and they are all gone too. So I’m the lonely girl left and I have 4 living brothers. As for myself I have 3 boys and 3 girls which I do love very much.

My children’s names are Arlen Bigsky, Kenneth Wolfe, Vernon Bigsky. But I didn’t raise them. They all got taken from me when they were babies, which I regret that I wasn’t there to hold them when they were crying. But they never held it against me, I’m glad they forgave me for not being there for them.

When I lost my children I moved to Regina and started my messy life. As for starters I lived under the Albert St Bridge for one year then I woke up one morning and came to Carmichael for coffee and started meeting new people. I seen what they had and I wanted what they had. But I was to scared to ask for their help.

Then I went upstairs to detox. Got out but I only turned back to my old ways of knowing. Then I kept on going to Carmichaels and I liked what they had so I asked Doreen for help and she gave me. So I went to Cree Nation. I liked it there but once again I turned to my old messy ways. Then I met Nic. So he helped me get into Calder in Saskatoon.

Without all the help the people at Carmichael I don’t think I’d be 7 months sober. All I can say is thank you all of you. Thank you for being there when I need you.

Written by Joanne Bigsky

Typed by Carmichael Free Press

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Margaret’s Retirement

How do you say good-bye?

It’s a question that I often neglect to ask myself. In fact, many times I find myself taking for granted that the people who are in my life today will always be there. There’s safety found in the familiar, and too many times I find myself realizing that what I’ve known is coming to an end without any clue how to come to terms with it.

If you’ve set foot in Carmichael Outreach over the last 18 years, chances are you’ve met Margaret. You might have heard one of our friends call her Margarito, but more than likely if you’ve spent any time around the building, you’ve heard her called “mom” – the strand that holds Carmichael together. After 18 years of life, passion, determination, community, or whatever else you can call what happens at Carmichael Outreach, the one constant has been Margaret. After 18 years of mamma Margaret spending her retirement from her work with the City of Regina behind the front desk at Carmichael there’s so much that can be said, and so little that can accurately describe what she has meant each one of us who saw her every day.

I remember as a child, attempting to drive through a blizzard with my dad and brother in the middle of the most intense blizzard I have ever experienced. The snow was blinding, the wind howling, and everything inside of me knew that we were in a dangerous situation. As we made our way home, I remember looking for anything familiar that would let me know that we were “home”. The feeling of relief that flooded over me as we turned up our driveway after seeing one tiny landmark is one that has stayed with me through the years.

In truth, Margaret was that feeling that you were home and you were safe. Perhaps it was why so many called her mom. No one has better exemplified the passion and vision of our founder and original Executive Director, George Palmer. In the early years, it was just Margaret and George. For those of us who came to Carmichael towards the end of George’s life, Margaret was our connection to what made, and makes this place special. In everything she did, she treated people with respect and dignity, and like any good mamma bear, she protected those she cared for.

As she retires, I’m forced to reflect on what made her so special, and I have realized it’s not so complex. She cared about relationships more than programs and showed that ending homelessness in our community starts and ends there. She cared about understanding each person she saw each day – her desk was littered with trinkets that were always in the way of my mail folder, but were precious gifts to her from people she loved. Her attention to what mattered – relationships, honesty, integrity, and consistency are what left us all wondering at the end of her retirement party yesterday, “what are we supposed to do now?

I found myself walking into work today looking for the sign that I was home, and it felt empty without her at her desk. I know for many of us around here, it felt the same. In time, if we follow in her footsteps, we will find ourselves becoming that safe place for each other.

I used to hope that when I left Carmichael, that people would see the work I did and be proud of it, that people would say, “he was part of ending homelessness in our community.” Now, I hope that when I leave, people will remember me like they remember Margaret – a safe place, a welcoming place, part of the family.

So, I might know how to say good-bye, but I know how to say thank-you. So, thanks “mom”, for 18 years of gentle reminders about what really matters. We’ll miss you.

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Written by Tyler Gray – Communications, Advocacy, and Projects Coordinator at Carmichael Outreach

 

 

2015 AGM and Board Elections

We held our Annual General Meeting on October 21st, 2015. It was a time to celebrate another great year made possible through the generosity of our community and the hard work of our staff and volunteers. This past year, we served 56,529 meals, helped 149 individuals and families find a new home, and had over 5,000 volunteer hours. It was a year with many challenges, but we are proud of what we were able to accomplish this year. We still dream of seeing the number of meals served, and the number of people in need of housing decrease to zero, and we will continue to work towards that end. Come join us!

We also held our annual board elections, and welcomed 3 new board members. With that, we wanted to say a thank-you and good-bye to our three outgoing board members – Alexis Losie, Jacqueline Hatherly, and Riva Farrell-Racette. Each of these board members served multiple terms and came to Carmichael Outreach at a time of financial instability. Their hard work along with their colleagues has left us in a much stronger financial position and we are grateful for their services over these key years.

We would like to welcome three new board members:

– Bill Neher (elected to a three year term)

– Eldon Janzen (elected to a three year term)

– Tino Radutu (elected to a three year term)

We would also like to welcome one returning board member:

– Adam Levine (elected to a three year term)

Congratulations to our new and returning board members, and thank-you to our outgoing board members who have served us well.

 

 

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The Carmichael Free Press

Noel, Rocky, Mike and others sat in the coffee room on a Thursday afternoon and asked what was going on for programming that afternoon. “Art Class!” I (Nic) proclaimed on my way downstairs. I brought up the box of scrapbooking supplies that former gourmet chef and art mastermind Mike Wysminity paid for with money he raised himself by selling tomato plants at the Farmers Market in pots hand-painted by Carmichael art participants.

I tossed markers, fancy-edged scissors, stickers, moon-shaped hole punches on the table and people started creating. Noel wrote an inspirational quote and drew a cartoon. Mike wrote a poem. Lisa wrote a note to her son under a picture of him taken from a previous Carmichael Hockey Day. Brian wrote a story. Then staff members cut them out, organized them, and pasted them on the template, made copies, and printed them for the masses.

The Carmichael Free Press is a grassroots publication on it’s fourth edition so far—a zine style scrapbooking newspaper that anyone can contribute to. Not topical, always different, the Free Press is a creative home for real, not-pretentious, unknown writers, artists, painters, comics, mothers, children, and more, not only to produce something they are interested in—they are proud of, that makes them laugh—but to have it shared with their group of friends, the Carmichael staff, and the greater community.

The first ever headline of the Carmichael Free Press was borrowed from a photograph from a previous Carmichael photography class partnered with the Heritage Community Association and Sask Arts Board.

“Here you go!” he said, as he passed his page to me with the inevitable nervous feeling of sharing something you just created. The headline read, “The Princess Royal Walk – Her Royal Highness Visiting Heritage Centre in Regina Sask…..” with an up-close picture of a loyal volunteer. Everyone in the room laughed at the joke. Real news be damned, street news is what matters. The experiences of people in your neighbourhood who you have never met are what truly matter, not the business interests of private national media. Hailed by its creators as “The most important newspaper in Saskatchewan,” the Free Press begins its climb to the top.

Thursday afternoon Art Class at Carmichael has evolved as necessary from painting to drawing to scrapbooking to newspaper-making to who-knows-what-next, depending on interest, on funding, and on person skills of the facilitator. The informality and drop-in style of the Art Class is what makes it a success. Peter walked into the coffee room, saw his friend sitting at the table, saw markers, scissors, empty pages of the Carmichael Free Press, and sat down for ten minutes, drew a remarkable drawing of a pipe with the smoke forming a buffalo, eagle, bear. He thanked us for the time and headed on his way.

Every person has the right to have their voice heard, published, and distributed. People in your city are depressed, pissed off, a little bit high, lonely, in love, tired, dope-sick, or extremely happy, and they are entitled to these feelings. The power that is gained in sharing these feelings, putting them in some creative form, is invaluable. Outside of the online world of status updates and cartoon smiley faces, people need to have a forum to express themselves, and since Facebook and other online media aren’t accessible to those without internet access and aren’t really collective, the Free Press fills the void.

Authors and artists work years to get things published or get their art hanging in a coffee shop in the over-marketed world of writing and art, but that doesn’t make the voice of the amateur any less important. If anything it makes it more significant; not being sold as a commodity or graded like a high school paper.

The Carmichael Free Press is the perfect example of Carmichael programming—drop-in-styled, no cost, inclusive to all, hilarious, frustrating, and motivating. Sober or not, published or not, practiced or not, community members can use the Carmichael Free Press as a home for personal expression, a place for injustices to be made public, love to be shared.

The sign-off of our first edition reminds readers what the Free Press is trying to proclaim each and every edition—the importance of listening to and helping out people you have never met, and encouraging you to get to know them one way or another, possibly by participating in your local Free Press!

“Sisters and Brothers, we are all on the same page. So don’t flip me!”

** Check out the First Edition of the Carmichael Free Press **

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Steak Night Fundraiser

Steak night

We are honored to have the team at Regina Realty Experts holding a Steak Night this upcoming Tuesday on our behalf at the PressBox in Regina. Head on over between 5-9PM, enjoy a steak, watch some exciting Blue Jays baseball, and help us raise some money for Carmichael Outreach.

The community of Regina consistently blows us away with their generosity, and this is another surprise and major blessing to us.

Thank you all,

The Carmichael Outreach Team

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MNP Tournament of Hope Postponement and Pledge Drive

Yesterday was to mark the 15th Annual installment of the MNP Tournament of Hope at the Tor Hill Golf Club, but inclement weather forced us to postpone this year’s edition until August 31st. Location and time will remain the same, with registration beginning at 11:00AM and a shotgun start at 12:30PM.

We have a new online tool this year to help us maximize this fundraiser and we invite you to check it out. It’s our pledge drive for the golf tournament. While we have nearly sold out of sponsorship options and participant space, each of this items has a fixed cost that takes away from the funds we can raise. However, the pledge drive is a key piece to this fundraiser. If you have sponsored in previous years, or are attending this year, or are even a friend of Carmichael Outreach, you can participate in the tournament pledge drive.

All you have to do is share/visit the form found here and make your contribution.

We have some great prizes for those who help us raise funds for Carmichael Outreach.

Anyone raising over $250 receives a custom piece of bone art from local artist Darren Pratt

Anyone raising over $500 receives a Darren Pratt piece and the choice between a E & J Gallo Wine basket and a sparkle ball necklace from Hillberg & Burk

Anyone raising over $1000 receives the $500 prize, and a choice of sparkle ball earrings, or a FitBit.

Help us raise funds, and make sure that if people pledge to you that they enter your name in the “pledging to” field so that we know how much money you’ve raised.

Thanks all,

The Carmichael Outreach Team

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Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 5)

Given the amount of information we have put out in this blog series, we felt it would be best to provide a type of executive summary for Part 5. If you’re interested in the full context of the on-going conversation we’ve been having, please read Parts 1-4 of this series as they provide far greater detail and support for our thoughts on how to address homelessness in our community.

We identify a few core values that are of absolute necessity when entering into conversation about homelessness, and the experiences of homelessness in our communities. First – the values our organization is founded on, respect and dignity, are non-starters. We cannot expect to realistically address social problems in our community when we do not value the members of our community facing these challenges. There’s a great campaign on-going with Raise the Roof Canada that portrays this with some great videos. Check it out by connecting with #humansforhumans on facebook or social media. We must move as a community to solutions that are collective and inclusive of those with lived experience. Hearing and respecting the powerful stories and voices of individuals and families experiencing homelessness is the first step to learning how to address homelessness. Community ills require community cures. Our work is rooted in these principles and we extend an open invitation to anyone who wants to join us in this important work.

Ending homelessness in our community is an achievable goal. Many communities across our country have implemented plans to end homelessness, and it is time for one here. Community investment in solving the problem of homelessness has several positive effects. First, each member of our community has a place to call home and the social supports to help them journey through life’s experiences. Each of us leverages resources in times of crisis and often those experiencing homelessness in our community simply do not have social supports to help them avoid homelessness. Second, there is simply no economic argument that validates doing nothing. We spend 2-3x as much money in our current systems that don’t respect and uphold human dignity vs. models such as Housing First and harm reduction services that are twice as successful at helping people maintain housing. Our current methods of dealing with homelessness only perpetuate chronic cycles. Partnership at all levels of our community (citizens, levels of government, CBOs, government services) means that we can provide a more focused, organized response to homelessness and follow the lead of places such as Medicine Hat, where they are on their way to ending homelessness.

Harm reduction services are an additional key piece to Housing First and efficable responses to homelessness. Programs like Needle Exchange Programs and other services along the continuum of harm reduction services are proven to reduce the spread of infectious diseases and have greater success in supporting individuals with addictions and mental illness. When offered congruently, these services provide space for those experiencing homelessness to have far better outcomes.

– Average shelter visits have been shown to decrease 88%

– Days in prison are reduced by 45%

– Visits for acute hospital care are reduced 70%

– Substance abuse reduced 30% (after three months of support)

– 82% of people report a more positive outlook for the future (90% report life has improved)

Service provision needs to meet people where they are at in order to be effective. Individuals are personally empowered and desire better outcomes. The statistical proof above is consistent across Housing First type programs in North America.

Ending homelessness is achievable, but only as we change the conversation. As we have stated in this series, community is more than geographical boundaries. It is the individuals, experiences, and personalities that make up those in our community. We can continue to spend money maintaining existing systems that do not help individuals long-term, or we can stand for and invest in programs and services that are shown to end homelessness. Each person in our community deserves to be respected in their humanity and access services that uphold their dignity instead of stigmatizing their experiences. Negative outcomes in housing often lead to negative outcomes socially. Positive outcomes in housing enable for individuals to live their lives with vision that is more than temporal and based on survival. Many people we have met could echo these statistics and stories, but their stories are for them to tell.

These blogs are our thoughts and we will close with an invitation into the work of ending homelessness in our community. Volunteer with us or another CBO, stand for policies that are proven economically and positive socially, and let’s overcome long-standing barriers between us in our community.

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Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 4)

Walking into Carmichael Outreach for my job interview in May of 2013. I was a recent graduate from the University of Regina, and I thought I understood all of the challenges surrounding poverty and homelessness. I strutted in with confidence, looked around, and immediately realized I had never encountered or engaged an experience of poverty/homelessness like the experiences of the folks that have become my friends at Carmichael.

I didn’t understand. I still don’t.

I have travelled and volunteered extensively internationally, having spent time in Asia working with impoverished children trying to prevent human trafficking. It was a time where I originally thought that the experiences of poverty for the marginalized in those countries were barbaric and archaic. I remember being flabbergasted seeing starving children on the street, or babies lying face down in the dirt of Kolkata’s streets with no clothes on. There was a certain look of hopelessness that I didn’t know how to deal with or comprehend.

The first time I went in 2008, I soothed myself by thinking how much better those experiencing poverty had it in Canada. The second time I went in 2014, I realized there were, and are, far too many similarities between those afflicted with the experiences of poverty around the world. Women and children disproportionately affected. Minorities disproportionately represented, and the most vulnerable populations exploited, de-humanized, and blamed for their position. In India, mental illness and addiction in their most visible forms were often challenges for those living on the street, and it is the same here.

One of our local advocates in Regina often speaks of the geography of opportunity for folks experiencing homelessness/extreme poverty. It’s the idea that most live their lives finding the things they need to survive within a 10 block radius. Think about the experience of homelessness for a moment – there’s nowhere to store food, clothes, medicine, or toiletries. There’s no mode of transportation unless you have access to public transportation. It shrinks the area that a person functions in their community when they must maximize their time accessing various things for survival.

As an organization, we had an awakening to our part in that narrative. Most of our friends that regularly attend Carmichael Outreach have life experiences that are largely restricted to the downtown/heritage area. They sleep in shelter, detox, or emergency, access needed services during the day, and Soul’s Harbour for supper. Then, they find their way to where they will sleep again and repeat the cycle. Constantly thinking about survival robs someone of his or her inability to plan long-term. Temporal decisions are the only ones available. Where will I find food when I have none? Where will I find a shower? Where will I sleep tonight? Until those basic needs are addressed, there can be no consideration of weeks, months, or years down the road. It is the simple psychology of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to take care of survival first, and it is one that has kept homelessness hidden due to the location of community resources. We are proud of the services we provide, but we cannot simply be another holding space for our city’s homeless populations that separates them from the rest of our community.

We have realized community is more than a set of geographical boundaries. It is not a sign that welcomes you to “the friendly city”, “the bridge city”, or “the queen city”. It is the individuals, experiences, and personalities that occupy those spaces. The more that we refuse to allow division to separate us through misunderstanding and fear, the less power these perceptions have to create social classes. The break down of individual and community social support is the number one factor that leads to homelessness. Our inability to understand homelessness as more than a label limits our ability to empathize with the experiences of those facing homelessness.

Our goal is to have community that shares experiences with each other. These are the reasons we offer art classes, hockey days, guitar lessons, and many other similar services. It is not simply for the novelty of opportunity for the less fortunate, it is so we all have an opportunity to eliminate the invisible barriers that separate us as community.

On day four, we offer the following solution – Community Engagement. We do our best to engage the community, and we are hopeful that as we share our experiences and thoughts that the community wants to engage us. Imagine a community engaged in supporting one another when and where it was needed. It does not breed dependency, but rather results in successful achievement of independence far more frequently than through current policies that ostracize and marginalize already oppressed populations. Come to Carmichael when we have events. Paint with each other, volunteer with us or another CBO.

We are so grateful for the community partnerships we have. We are able to provide services to those in need and we cannot say thank you enough to those who faithfully support us, bring food, donate items, and volunteer. We want to grow that part of our movement. It is our perspective that as we grow the number of people with knowledge of community issues and relationship with those affected, we will see a decrease in the number of people needing to access our food services. We dream of serving 17,000 less meals in a year instead of 17,000 more, or providing housing support and harm reduction services to less people because of improving outcomes. These types of outcomes are possible. Join us in changing the conversation. Let’s become communities rooted in respect and dignity for each other.

** Part 4 in our series of blogs shares the experiences of one of our employees, Tyler who works in the capacity of Communications, Advocacy, and Projects at Carmichael Outreach. 

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Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 3)

As part of last week’s Five Days for the Homeless fundraiser, held by the Business Students Society at the University of Regina, we thought it might be a good idea to supplement fundraising efforts with some conversations about how we as a community can contribute to ending homelessness in our community.

Despite our best efforts to finish on time, our blog-writer Tyler came down with the flu and was not able to finish the series during last week’s timeframe. As a result, we will finish the series this week. We’ve previously talked about the the principles that govern Carmichael Outreach and the lack of long-term financial strategy in addressing homelessness through government programs. Today, we wanted to talk about another key piece of the conversation around homelessness – addictions and mental illness.

Addiction is often associated with the experience of homelessness, but more often as a cause of, rather than a potential symptom. The implied conotation is often that it is the addiction that causes homelessness rather than the addiction as a result of homelessness. There are certainly circumstances where the former is true, but according to research, the latter is far more prevalant. An example of this can be found in a research report produced by homelesshub.ca where studies found that in 67% of shelter users in studied locales reported a “diagnosed lifetime mental illness.” In the same report, shelter users in major urban centres in Canada reported a lifetime diagnosed substance abuse problem (68%), and in another locale nearly 50% reported having used an illicit substance in the past month. While there is no guarantee that these conditions are always present simultaneously, “almost all shelter users” reported a concurrent or dual diagnosis (addictions and mental illness). In short, for the members of our communities that experience homelessness, mental illness and addictions often go hand in hand.

The above mentioned study also found that homeless individuals experiencing these conditions were likely to remain homeless for longer periods of time. There are several explanations offered, but aside from obvious reasons of difficulty personally maintaining housing (tenancy skills, fiscal management, etc.) a lack of support was noted as a substantial difference in the coping resources individuals had when they experienced mental difficulties. In short, many homeless folks are self-medicating through available means in an effort to experience relief from the concurrent problems of mental illness and addictions. A lack of available social supports contributes to an on-going cycle that causes continued separation and stigmatization from broader community and significantly reduces the likelihood of acquiring and maintaining housing.

Housing First, as discussed in (Part 2) of this blog offers an answer to this by supporting individuals facing these chalelnges. The report can be found on our webpage, but research into Canadian programs indicates that within 3 months of having housing, 17% of individuals in the same studied locales had quit drinking and 31% had quit using drugs – all within three months of receiving housing and necessary social supports. Additionally, usage of high cost services had drastically decreased and individuals reported less stress, and a better outlook on life. These results continue to build upon our case for respect, dignity, and effective long-term supports in Parts 1 & 2 of our blog.

In our day-to-day operations, our support for those fighting addictions and experiencing mental illness has several layers. First, we offer a Needle Exchange Program that is designed to prevent dirty needles from remaining on the street in order to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, and to provide a friendly, trusted face to those experiencing addiction. The program is rooted in the principles of harm reduction and is closely connected to Detox programs and services and is staffed by Public Health Nurses. Additionally, we offer a Healing Circle on Monday Mornings, a Narcotics Anonymous group on Friday mornings, and referrals to mental health and addictions services.

For Part 3 of Five Days, Five Solutions, we advocate for greater investment in addictions programs and services that do not exacerbate the cycle of addictions and mental illness, but for programs rooted in the principles of harm reduction such as our needle exchange programs in Regina, or InSite in Vancouver through the Pacific Coastal Health Region, and services that respect the humanity of the individuals they serve. The results speak for themselves – nearly 90% of folks are able to maintain housing with necessary social supports. Once housing stability is achieved, communities see significant reductions in high-cost services. Additionally, services rooted in harm reduction and offered through avenues such as housing first report nearly twice the success rate of treatment first models in helping individuals maintain housing.

As we have stated in both previous posts, we must destigmatize the experiences of individuals facing homelessness and its various challenges in our communities. It is quite likely that further stigmatization will lead to continued and chronic cycles of substance abuse, mental illness and housing instability. We can do better, we must do better.

Research mentioned in this post can be found at: 

http://homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/2.3%20CPHI%20Mental%20Health%20Mental%20Illness%20and%20Homelessness.pdf

http://carmichaeloutreach.org/index.php?pageid=Homelessness_in_Regina_Current_Situation_and_Solutions_From_Other_Communities

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Five Days, Five Solutions (Part 2)

Students have spent two days and two nights on the concrete at the University of Regina in an effort to draw attention to the experiences of members of our community who face the challenges of homelessness and extreme poverty on a daily basis. As noted yesterday, we recognize two things about this fundraiser. First, it cannot possibly recreate/represent all of the complexities associated with homelessness. Participants do not experience racism, systemic oppression, wondering if they will eat period, or even have experiences with homelessness for an amount of time that causes them to forget how to use a phone, forget what their own private bedroom feels like, and many more. Equally important to note is that there is tremendous value in this event because of the unique opportunity and profile it provides us to engage students, future and current community leaders, and the community at large in conversations about how we can implement social policy and investments (programs, grants) that will allow for us to end extreme poverty and homelessness, both achievable goals.

At Carmichael Outreach, we see the effects of Regina’s ongoing housing crunch on a daily basis. In 2011, we commenced the Carmichael Outreach Housing Support Program, and in the last six months of that calendar year, we provided support (advocacy, house hunting, budgeting, relationship building, tenancy skills) to 32 members of our community. In 2012, that number grew to 112. In 2013, we saw 267 unique individuals and families request and receive our programs supports. This past year, the program exploded, and between two coordinators, we saw 692 intakes. That means for nearly each day of the year, 2 individuals/families in our community walked in the door unable to maintain their housing because of budgetary restrictions, poor quality housing, landlord/tenant issues, racism, unethical evictions, and many other circumstances. In short, there is a growing number of folks in our city that simply cannot make housing work any longer for a variety of reasons.

We work with a wide range of people. Some people need limited support and are able to acquire the right housing quite easily. Some require some advocacy and support in their corner to get a second chance, and some are chronically homeless members of our community who have faced housing instability for as long as 18 years. Many of these folks face the additional barrier of concurrent diagnosis (a diagnosed mental illness and on-going addiction). It is in this area of housing support that we spend most of our time.

As a province, we spend exorbitant amounts of money perpetuating the instability that is a major contributing factor to the most inhumane of outcomes. The vast majority of those in our province on social assistance are termed unemployable. This designation can be an inability to work for several different reasons, but each of these individuals receives a base level of $459/month for housing. If they are able to acquire housing that meets certain quality requirements they are able to access the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Supplement, which is from $180-220, depending on classification. Outside of the challenge of strict requirements that many rentals in our city do not meet, economically disadvantaged members of our community are forced to chase money to be able to obtain stable housing. It is our perspective that housing is a human right, and a necessary piece in the managing of mental illness and journey to sobriety. Research indicates that individuals in housing and with community supports are successful in maintaining housing over 2 years between 88-92% of the time, depending on the locale. Once an individual has maintained stable housing for 2 years, they are unlikely to ever experience homelessness again.

Rather than investing in programs that build capacity for these individuals and families, we spend around $2300/month for emergency services such as shelter, even more for beds in hospital emergency rooms, ambulatory services for individuals in crisis during cold weather, corrections costs, and beds at health region detox facilities. A simple top-up program available to individuals connected to community supports would not only reduce cost expenditures, but also improve the physical, social, emotional, and mental outcomes. Individuals having access to the dollars they need for rent ($850 average for a one bedroom apartment) is substantially cheaper than spending three times that amount on reactive services that do nothing to break the cycles associated with chronic homelessness.

On day 2 of our Five Days, Five Solutions series, we present the following solutions:

Strategic Investment in capacity building programs rooted in the principles of harm reduction such as Housing First. Individual dignity is upheld through provision of housing without requirement of sobriety or the bizarre concept of “earning” humane treatment. Individuals are afforded the geographical stability they need to journey towards their own health and stability in other key areas.

We also advocate for rental licensing, or a similar-type system that requires individuals who profit from property to maintain a standard of quality in their properties and that protects renters from certain rental increases that exploit the economically disadvantaged and further marginalizes their opportunities and physical experiences.

Housing is a human right and we must approach it as such. We are able to make strategic investments that will not only enable us to end homelessness and extreme poverty in our community, but also to build communities that are inclusive and look out for each other. Personal ownership is empowered through shared social responsibility and a community that is more than a set of geographical boundaries. Let’s leverage an event like Five Days for the Homeless into determination to end homelessness and extreme poverty in our community. Together, it is possible.