Anti-poverty advocates rally in Regina, Saskatoon to protest Sask.'s new income support program

·3 min read
Rallies were held in Regina and Saskatoon on Wednesday to demand changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program. (Dayne Patterson/CBC - image credit)
Rallies were held in Regina and Saskatoon on Wednesday to demand changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program. (Dayne Patterson/CBC - image credit)

More than 150 people rallied at two separate events in Regina and Saskatoon to demand changes to the Saskatchewan government's new social assistance program.

The Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program replaced the Saskatchewan Assistance Program on Aug. 31. The provincial government said the program is a way for people on assistance to become more self-sufficient, but anti-poverty advocates, landlords and the NDP say SIS is failing its clients and leading to more evictions and homelessness.

Under the SIS program, clients are allocated a shelter budget and must pay rent and utilities themselves each month from the money they are given.

A single adult receives $575 a month for shelter and utilities, and another $285 a month for food and all other expenses.

"We are seeing a dramatic rise in homelessness in the city right now. And we think a lot of that is directly attributable to the new Saskatchewan income support program and the new policies that come with it," said Len Usiskin, executive director of Quint Development Corporation, which owns around 100 affordable rental-housing units in Saskatoon.

He says it's "becoming unrealistic" for Quint to rent to people receiving SIS and that the organization had to evict an "unprecedented" 11 tenants in September.

Dayne Patterson/CBC
Dayne Patterson/CBC

Usiskin said the new shelter allowance is not enough to keep in line with the cost of renting housing in the province.

One of Usiskin's other main concerns with the new program is that unlike before, the allowance is paid to the tenants — not their landlords and utility companies.

"In theory, that's not a bad thing. But when you're dealing with individuals who are living in poverty and have a lot of debts … or have mental health and addictions issues or cognitive disabilities, we know that some people are not going to pay the rent and utilities and they're going to be facing arrears and eventually evictions as a result," Usiskin said.

'Housing is a human right'

In Regina, anti-poverty advocates rallied at the Legislative Building on the first day of the fall sitting.

Alejandra Cabrera, who helped organize the rally, said she is advocating for changes to the SIS program because "housing is a human right."

"I may not know them but that could be like a brother, a sister," she said. "They belong to someone and it pains me to see them living in a tent in a park. No one should have to do that."

Camp Marjorie, the temporary tent encampment In Regina's Pepsi Park, now has more than 70 tents and about 100 people, according to one of the camp's leaders.

"The Ministry of Social Services recognizes that we all need to work together to address homelessness," said a ministry spokesperson in an email to CBC News.

The ministry said it reaches out to landlords and housing providers and encourages them to connect with the ministry if they aren't being paid rent.

"While we can't disclose to the landlord if their tenant is a SIS client, we can connect with our client to assist them with managing their budget to meet their rental obligations," the ministry said.

"We have been continuously improving the program over the past two years to better serve clients, and we continue to do that as we determine what adjustments need to be made going forward."

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