Regina drop-in centre serving 900 people daily is closing due to lack of funding, director says

·3 min read
Awasiw will be closing its doors at the end of the month due to lack of funding, according to its director. (Germain Wilson/CBC - image credit)
Awasiw will be closing its doors at the end of the month due to lack of funding, according to its director. (Germain Wilson/CBC - image credit)

Awasiw, a 24-hour drop-in-centre that provides food, shelter and harm reduction supplies to about 900 people each day in Regina's north-central neighbourhood, is closing.

The centre opened its doors at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We opened the place so people would have a safe place to go. They would be able to access care, treatment and support services throughout the pandemic," said Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, a director with All Nations Hope Network (ANHN), which runs the centre at 2735 5th Ave.

During the pandemic, people experiencing homelessness no longer had access to public spaces to warm up, Kisikaw Piyesis says, prompting the ANHN in combination with the YWCA to establish the drop-in centre.

However, Kisikaw Piyesis says, as the months progressed it became clear that the centre was filling a gap in the community that extended beyond the pandemic.

People could stop in to warm up in the evening when other shelters were closed to the public, receive a bite to eat, get harm reduction supplies and access PPE including masks or COVID-19 tests.

They were also given access to Naloxone kits, the antidote that blocks the effects of opiods including heroin, oxycodone and fentanyl, and is used to counteract the effects of a drug overdose.

"Not only do we feed people mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, but we're offering them much more," Kisikaw Piyesis said.

In addition to food and shelter, knowledge keepers and elders were also on hand to support people using the centre.

"We need to offer that to the people. We need to look for real solutions, for healing and wellness, not Band-Aids," Kisikaw Piyesis said.

We opened the place so people would have a safe place to go. - Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, All Nations Hope Network

She said it costs about $800,000 to run the centre annually, and that about 900 people come through Awasiw's doors seeking warmth or other services during a 24-hour period.

Kisikaw Piyesis says Awasiw doesn't receive any provincial funding and is out of money. It will close on June 30.

In a written response to questions about funding for Awasiw, the Ministry of Social Services wrote:

"In December 2021, the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation announced the transfer of ownership for 2735-5th Avenue in Regina to All Nations Hope Network (ANHN) to support the organization in providing services to people in the community experiencing homelessness.

"The Ministry of Social Services has not received a request for funding from All Nations Hope over the past year."

Drug overdose fears

YWCA CEO Melissa Coomber-Bendtsen is worried that once Awasiw closes drug overdoses will increase as people lose convenient access to harm reduction supplies, including Naloxone kits.

"I think we're all very worried about that," Coomber-Bendtsen said.

"There's a story where somebody carried their friend to Awasiw in the middle of a drug poisoning to get help. It was a place people knew was available to them."

Coomber-Bendtsen says Awasiw also provided people experiencing homelessness with a first contact that might lead them to eventually seek help at a local shelter.

She says an advisory group including police, EMS and mobile crisis had identified the need for a drop-in centre open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and that initially the City of Regina, the YWCA and Ottawa provided funding for Awasiw.

Kisikaw Piyesis said ANHN will continue to provide crisis support once Awasiw closes, but it will only offer services during business hours, not the round-the-clock access provided at Awasiw.

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