No plans for province's northernmost overnight shelter to return this winter

·2 min read

Saskatchewan's northernmost overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness will likely be gone this winter.

Kikinahk Friendship Centre says its Scattered Site Outreach Program — after more than a year of closures and rocky finances — will sever its extended hours and overnight shelter services this winter.

"We've been keeping the program afloat all on our own," Friendship Centre president Danielle DeBruyne said.

"We feel that we've exhausted all of our resources."

For roughly four years, the centre exceeded its operational budgets. COVID-19 added to that pressure, leaving little room for other programs, she said.

About 211 people coming from communities across the north used the services last winter. In a typical year, more than 100 people accessed the shelter, Friendship Centre executive director Ron Woytowich said.

Woytowich helmed the service during costly challenges over the past year, ranging from funding drying up to scrambling for space as temperatures fell. It ultimately couldn't continue, although Scattered Site's daytime services will go on, he said.

Cold temperatures in the north can already be fatal for people without housing. Unless a replacement is found, it could be "a catastrophe" as temperatures plunge this winter, Woytowich said.

The provincial government won't step in to a build a new shelter, according to a June 16 letter submitted to La Ronge town council and signed by Social Social Services minister Lori Carr and Justice Minister Gordon Wyant.

"Federal funding agreements and (Saskatchewan Housing Corporation) development policies do not allow capital funding for emergency shelters," the letter stated.

La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak said a private donor has offered seven figures to fund an overnight service in the community, but that likely isn't a long-term solution. The cost of running an overnight shelter in La Ronge — which Ratushniak pegs at roughly $600,000 per year — can't fall on the shoulders of local ratepayers, he added.

However, there is no clear replacement. Ratushniak said it "baffles" him that Social Services won't offer funds, given "the importance of a homeless shelter" in the north.

It's also too late to build a new shelter this year, so a temporary solution is needed before the winter hits, he said. He aims to convene a meeting next week including the leaders of Air Ronge and Lac La Ronge Indian Band to consider how to replace the services.

"It's not just the homelessness problem. This is everybody's problem," he said.

Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix

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