Saskatoon support worker says urgent search to find mother of 5 a home highlights social housing concerns

·4 min read
Kayleigh Lafontaine works with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, an agency that supports women who have had interactions with the justice system.  (Submitted by Kayleigh Lafontaine - image credit)
Kayleigh Lafontaine works with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Saskatchewan, an agency that supports women who have had interactions with the justice system. (Submitted by Kayleigh Lafontaine - image credit)

Kayleigh LaFontaine is relieved that a frantic effort to help a homeless mother has come to an end.

"It was really emotional for me," said LaFontaine, who is an integration worker with the Elizabeth Fry Society in Saskatoon. "Yesterday morning, we felt like we were just out of luck."

LaFontaine has been trying to help her client Tara, who was evicted due to arrears on Mar. 29 within days of giving birth to her fifth child. They seemed to hit roadblocks with every attempt to secure housing.

She said the Ministry of Social Services had given her client a deadline of Friday to find something or be forced to leave her emergency accommodations. They went public with the story in hopes of finding a solution, but also to demonstrate how hard it is to find housing for people trying to have a fresh start, LaFontaine said.

For example, she said they spent hours filling out paperwork only to be met with constant rejection.

"This is a crisis, but you still have to fill those applications out. You can't just call and say, do you have space?"

She's a human being and she deserves to be treated by every agency with respect, with compassion. - Kayleigh LaFontaine

Multiple housing support programs that might have taken the woman had months-long wait-lists. Others couldn't accept her because of her kids. They couldn't go the private route because of credit rating, LaFontaine said, with many applications requiring bank statements or multiple landlord references.

"Everyone deserves to have a home. The discrimination based on financial system circumstances when someone is in such a crisis mode is just very unfortunate."

LaFontaine said these barriers make it seemingly impossible for clients like Tara to get a fresh start. She said her client has worked hard to heal from trauma, addiction and experience with the justice system.

"I've seen her turn her life around," she said. "I've watched her really, really do the hard work that it takes for her to maintain her children being in her care."

Challenges emerged with the government's Client Service Centre, a call centre Saskatchewan residents on income assistance can contact to access emergency hotel stays on a day-by-day basis when there are no other options.

LaFontaine said her client faced lengthy wait times on the phone, or late-day approvals that affected her ability to access food.

"It's setting people up for failure," she said. "It's been really, really eye opening to walk beside her on this."

LaFontaine said they felt hopeless. She turned to social media on Thursday and shared an open letter, writing "my client is currently in crisis and I demand she be treated with leniency and compassion."

Her call for help was answered with compassion, but she said her client was met with discrimination and judgment when she spoke to a news organization about her predicament.

"When the article had the face of the mother... the general public was like, why does she have this many kids? Why is she homeless?" LaFontaine said, adding the comments were heartbreaking.

"It doesn't matter if she's been incarcerated. It doesn't matter if her children have been apprehended in the past. She's a human being and she deserves to be treated by every agency with respect, with compassion."

Sask. housing comes through

LaFontaine was relieved that the people from the Saskatchewan Housing Authority (SHA), Income Assistance and Child and Family Services branches all reached out to Tara after the story went public. By Friday, the housing authority confirmed they had secured a place for Tara.

Jeff Redekop, executive director of income assistance service delivery with the Ministry of Social Services, said Saskatoon has 1,150 social housing units that can support families run by the SHA. Redekop said there are 310 vacancies. These homes are for people without enough income to rent in the private market.

He said priority for placement into housing is based upon housing need.

"In situations where we have families who experienced multiple vulnerabilities, the Ministry of Social Services works closely with our network of community partners to connect the family to support," Redekop said.

Redekop did not directly answer why the client was given a deadline of Friday to leave the emergency accommodation when she hadn't yet found a place to go, but did say the emergency shelter benefits are provided on a daily basis based on individual needs. He said once the emergency needs are met, income assistance staff will begin working with them on a longer-term plan for stable housing.

LaFontaine has turned her attention to helping get Tara settled.

"I will fight to the very end to ensure that she's provided with the care that she deserves."