Organizers of Camp Hope say Regina residents stepped up to help people living in tent encampment

·3 min read
Camp Marjorie at Pepsi Park in Regina's Heritage neighbourhood. (Raphaële Frigon/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Camp Marjorie at Pepsi Park in Regina's Heritage neighbourhood. (Raphaële Frigon/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Organizers of a tent encampment set up in Regina's Pepsi Park say they've been humbled, heartbroken and also inspired during their time working with people living there.

"It's been surreal. I never thought in a city or country like this we'd be depending on community to feed people," Shylo Stevenson, communications officer with the Regina Needle Recovery and Community Support, told CBC's The Morning Edition.

"We have other support agencies here that should have stepped up on day one and haven't."

The City of Regina recently announced plans to move people from the tents at Camp Hope into an indoor space, but have yet to provide details on when or where that will happen.

Stevenson said his group, which helps organize the camp, isn't being included in the plans.

He said Camp Hope has highlighted some major gaps in social support systems in Regina.

"We really lack in the mental health and addictions and any kind of support other than what's given by the volunteers and citizens," Stevenson.

When people started moving into the tents last month, Regina residents stepped in, bringing food, bedding and health care to Camp Hope. The community was previously called Camp Marjorie in honour of a homeless woman who died there in the camp's early days.

Stevenson said organizers saw where residents needed help and stepped in to fill those gaps.

If we didn't do that, I don't think these people would have been properly looked after. - Shylo Stevenson

"We took it upon ourselves to bring in mobile clinics with nurse practitioners, doctors, prenatal, addiction services," he said.

"If we didn't do that, I don't think these people would have been properly looked after."

Jeff Redekop, executive director of income assistance service delivery with the Ministry of Social Services, said the province is working with community organizations to see how best to help people living with homelessness.

"Addressing the issue of homelessness is a group effort among different levels of government and community-based organizations. Social services provides some stability in the form of income and housing supports while partner agencies and organizations support specific issues people may be experiencing such as mental health and addictions."

In an emailed statement, Redekop said that since Oct. 12, 200 people at Camp Hope have received various forms of assistance from the government.

Of the hundreds of people relying on the camp for food and shelter, 22 have been placed into stable housing, according to Redekop.

Advocacy groups, landlords and income support recipients have blamed the increase in homelessness on changes the government made to how it delivers income support.

Previously, the province paid landlords directly for rent and also covered utilities, ensuring that housing costs didn't fall into arrears and result in evictions.

Under the new Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, clients are allocated a monthly shelter and utilities budget of $575, which falls short of even the cheapest rental options in Regina.

Stevenson said the traditional model of delivering social support doesn't work.

"It's sort of a dictatorship mentality. Everybody thinks they know what our addicted people need, our poverty people, our homeless people. But nobody's come to talk to us. Nobody's been to camp."

It's been a long month. I hope we see some changes after this - Nicole Niesner

Nicole Niesner, executive director of Regina Needle Recovery and Community Support, said they've worked to ask people what they need instead of telling them what they need.

"It's been very humbling. It's also been heartbreaking and happy all at the same time," Niesner said.

"It's been a long month. I hope we see some change after this."

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