Claudia Turner and Richard Wolfe are leading the quest to save the Lighthouse — an emergency shelter in North Battleford, Sask., that serves vulnerable people.
"I know what it's like to be homeless ... needing somebody to talk to needing the support, just needing a boost," Turner said. "That's why I'm determined to help them, because I've been there."
Turner questions whether she'd still be alive if she hadn't found the Lighthouse. She said her addictions nearly ruined her.
"I sobered up at the Lighthouse. I got my support that I needed there, so these people are actually my family now."
Turner and Wolfe were joined by dozens of clients, community members and politicians to raise awareness on Thursday outside city hall in North Battleford. They want the Saskatchewan government to provide stable core funding for the shelter.
They're not only homeless people, they're family. - Richard Wolfe
Staff say the North Battleford Lighthouse has been on the brink of closure since the Saskatchewan government changed the way it funded the shelter in 2016. It told the shelter program it would not be paying for anyone it considered to live on reserve. A large portion of people who use the shelter are Indigenous.
The shelter has enough money to make it until the fall of 2021. After that, it's uncertain.
The Provincial Métis Housing Corporation put up money after the change in 2016, but recently stepped away.
The Métis Nation—Saskatchewan has since stepped in, but is only guaranteeing money until September.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Services said in an email that the government "will continue to pay per diems to the North Battleford Lighthouse on behalf of eligible income assistance clients. Provincial funds paid to emergency shelters has increased, with additional funding being provided in April and then again in November to offset extra expenses related to COVID-19."
They said the ministry is also working with the organization to determine if other sources of federal funding might be available.
Wolfe said he was crushed when he heard the shelter was at risk of closing.
He and Turner have walked similar paths of addiction and homelessness. Wolfe said that over the last few months he's been learning how to cope with his problems and trauma.
Wolfe said people, including himself, often first turn toward substances for reassurance, comfort and warmth, but end up worse off and alone.
Turner and Wolfe both said the shelter does more than provide basic needs. It's a community.
"They're not only homeless people, they're family," he said. "I try my best to share my story with them. Maybe one day they'll want to join me in the sober road."
Turner said their peers at the shelter don't have anywhere else to go. She fears for the people who will be kicked back onto the street.
"Are you going to have these people sleeping on the streets again? They're going to have them sleeping in the bank lobbies again. You're going to have them eating from the garbage bins again," she said.
"As Claudia said, they had been kicked out of their house [by] their family or abandoned, so where do you go? It's heartbreaking."
Advocate and lawyer Benedict Feist and others who spoke at the rally called the per diem funding model not sufficient. Shelter numbers are unpredictable and vary greatly, but staff still need to be paid. The shelter receives provincial funding on a per diem basis at less than $100 per person, according to Lighthouse staff.
The centre would require between about $600,000 to $800,000 annually for core operational funding, Feist said. He was met with applause as he questioned why the government could spend $120 million on a remand centre, $1 million for the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce to do an advertising campaign and $4 million for junior hockey, yet won't step up to keep the shelter's lights on.
The NDP's critic for social services Meara Conway also attended the rally and echoed Feist's message, telling those in attendance that there is enough government money to support the shelter.
"This is a decision about who is in and who is out, who is worthy and who is not," Conway said.
Wolfe said people living with addictions in the area often end up facing homeless and almost always have to endure stigma. There are plenty of people who honk as they rally for the Lighthouse, but he said there are countless others who view them with judgment.
He urged kindness.
"They make it sound like it's a choice, but in reality, it's not. It's what happened in the person's past ... trauma in their life."