Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association voices concerns about province's revamped income support program

·3 min read
Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers is the chair of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association's City Mayor's Caucus.  (François Joly/CBC News - image credit)
Lloydminster Mayor Gerald Aalbers is the chair of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association's City Mayor's Caucus. (François Joly/CBC News - image credit)

Saskatchewan's new income support program has been criticized by advocates who say it's helping to fuel evictions and homelessness.

Now the organization representing cities in the province is joining the chorus of voices calling for the province to do more to help those in need.

The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) issued a statement on Friday saying the members of its mayors caucus are concerned about their residents' experience with the new Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program.

"This program is designed to help our most vulnerable, but instead, we are seeing an increase in homelessness in our communities," said Gerald Aalbers, the mayor of Lloydminister and the chair of SUMA's city mayor's caucus.

What is SIS?

SIS was first announced by the Saskatchewan government in 2019, with the promise that it would be a way for people on assistance to become more self-sufficient.

The program involves tenants receiving a monthly cheque from the government to pay for their utilities, food and rent bills.

Previously money for rent and utilities was sent directly to the landlord instead of the tenant.

Previous programs — the Transitional Employment Allowance and Saskatchewan Assistance Program — were phased out by the government, with everyone being required to be on SIS as of Aug. 31.

Since SIS came into effect, the program has been criticized by organizations and individuals across the political spectrum.

Activists have said the revamped system is causing more evictions, while a survey by the landlords association found that 31 per cent of people using the new program were unable to pay rent in September.

Now SUMA says its members are concerned as well.

Local politicians join the fray

On Friday, Aalbers expressed concern over the growth of homelessness in Saskatchewan.

He cited the establishment of Camp Marjorie in Regina as well as other tent encampments as a major concerns for the mayors in SUMA.

"We want to ensure that issue gets dealt with because we know what the temperature is outside. It's a beautiful day today, the sun is shining, it's a positive temperature here in Lloydminsiter. But we know we're not far away from Mother Nature changing that," Aalbers said.

He said it's important for municipalities to voice their support for residents who are unable to access services the province provides.

The mayor's caucus met with Social Services Minister Lori Carr earlier this week and told her their concerns.

Aalbers said Carr and the ministry share the concerns, but that SUMA still felt it was important to speak out and keep the issue front and centre.

"Not having rent paid, people are going to be evicted. Why was the rent not paid? It's the system that has had some challenges, and we want to ensure that those gaps are fixed as soon as possible," Aalbers said.

Carr has previously urged patience as the ministry works out SIS's growing pains.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon, Carr wrote that all levels of government have a role in addressing homelessness and that the province "takes its role very seriously."

"The Government of Saskatchewan continues to listen and collaborate with our partners in the community on ways we can better support clients with more complex needs who may be at risk of being homeless, and who require more support to see success," Carr said.

"We will continue to work with community based organizations and municipalities to address these issues in their communities."

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