A new temporary homeless shelter brought in media Thursday to offer a glimpse of what it will be like for people who stay there.
The Gathering Place's New Beginnings facility is set to open Monday. Located in the old YMCA building on 13th Avenue in downtown Regina, it will provide shelter, nutrition and wraparound services to 40 people.
News media were invited to tour the facility Thursday, as it wrapped up last-minute preparations before opening.
"We see this as a place where people can — even if just for that moment — start to consider a new beginning for themselves," said Erica Beaudin, executive director of Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RT/SIS), the organization operating the shelter. She led the tour.
RT/SIS opened a temporary winter shelter last year, but Beaudin and city officials noted Thursday that it was far more rushed than this one and unable to offer as much in-house.
"Having everything under one roof here really gives us such an incredible opportunity to work within that window that people, sometimes, are at," Beaudin said.
The shelter's front doors are locked at all times. Only security can open them, ensuring the person is safe to let in and doesn't have weapons.
The entrance leads to an open lobby. To the left are several offices for security, partner agency workers — to help people with things like income assistance — and social services caseworkers, to help residents access benefits.
There's also what Beaudin called "The Suite." The shelter is enforcing COVID-19 protocols and will provide rapid tests and masks. If someone tests positive, The Suite will act as a self-isolation unit that contains the essentials. Staff would bring meals to the person.
People staying at the shelter can sign in belongings — including gang paraphernalia, drugs and items that could be considered weapons — and sign them out when they leave.
There is a small cafeteria with an industrial kitchen. The Co-op Refinery Complex donated $50,000 to ensure people will have balanced meals. People will get three meals a day, plus snacks.
To the left of the cafeteria is what used to be a gymnasium. It contains 40 pods — essentially, tall cubicles — that each have a bed, desk, hygiene kit and black curtains for privacy. Only the person assigned to a specific pod is allowed inside it.
There are long tables where people can do puzzles and socialize, as well as a living room, with leather couches and a big cable TV.
It has a black padded floor. Before entering, staff members will take a person's shoes and give them slippers to wear instead.
Sometimes, people's shoes may be wet and cold, Beaudin said, so the slippers offer them a chance to warm and dry their feet.
The facility also contains rooms for various programming and meetings, such as cultural programs and Alcoholics Anonymous.
There is no safe-consumption site, but the shelter — which is in the same building as the Nest Health Centre — will have physicians visit once a week.
"We don't perceive this as an emergency service," said Dr. Ankit Kapur, the managing director of the Nest's downtown site.
"For many of us, we can go see our family doctor. For this community, that's hard to do, so we're trying to bring the family doctor and meet them where they are."
The Nest is aiming to offer the doctors for three hours per week at first, then hopes to extend that to six to eight hours, Kapur said.
The shelter is starting pre-admissions and Beaudin expects it will be at capacity before Monday.
When it opens, she expects there to be a waitlist.
If the shelter is at capacity and someone knocks on the door, staff will work with them to find another place to go, Beaudin said.
People living at the shelter will have to abide by certain rules: no pets or smoking, no violence and they must attend all programming and activities.
The Saskatchewan government is spending $400,000 to cover shelter operations, while the City of Regina— according to Mayor Sandra Masters — will spend around $500,000.
City manager Niki Anderson, who attended Thursday's events, told reporters that city administration will outline where the money is coming from when council reconvenes.
Trouble finding a space
Anderson said one of the reasons it took until the end of January to open the facility was difficulty with finding an appropriate space.
The city looked at 10 different properties, Anderson said.
There were various reasons properties didn't work, Masters said, such as poor location or the property not being appropriate.
Masters said the city has a proposal before the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation — the federal housing agency — for $9.4 million. If approved, the money will be used, at least in part, to develop a permanent shelter, she said.
"We've got some ideas about where we can potentially negotiate for purchase, and we'll continue working on building the partnerships — that we've got a solid foundation with — on a go-forward operating basis," she said.
The goal is to have a location secured by the end of summer, Anderson said.
When the temporary shelter opens Monday, Regina's warming bus will be put on pause, she said.
If there is a need for more shelter space, the city will reassess, she added.