NDP report shows significant cracks in Sask. housing strategy, provincial assistance programs

·3 min read
Meara Conway, Official Opposition Critic for Social Services, Housing and Human Rights, previously called on the province to suspend the SIS program.  (Raphaële Frigon/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Meara Conway, Official Opposition Critic for Social Services, Housing and Human Rights, previously called on the province to suspend the SIS program. (Raphaële Frigon/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Saskatchewan NDP has released its report on the housing crisis and provincial social assistance programs, informed by social services and housing critic Meara Conway's emergency public consultation tour.

The project was launched after the full implementation of the new Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program in fall 2021.

The report indicates that Saskatchewan is not on track to reach its target of reducing the number of Saskatchewan people experiencing long-term poverty by half by the end of 2025. It also states that poverty has worsened in the province in the last five years.

Many other problems are mentioned — for example, people who are experiencing homelessness and who are without ID cannot access services. Conway said that what she and other advocates have called underfunding to several assistance programs actually ends up costing more to the government because of the lack of prevention.

Conway provided several suggested solutions for these issues, like increasing income assistance rates, funding harm reduction and providing people who are trying to get off assistance more fulsome education on how to do so successfully.

"This is the result of a flawed approach to poverty and housing, an approach that flies in the face of the government's own 2016 poverty reduction strategy," Conway said Monday.

"Housing supports do not reflect what is needed in the community: shelters are full, poorly funded, and there is a lack of appropriate housing, including supported housing," part of her report reads.

Conway said she has sent the report to the Ministry of Social Services and asked to sit down and talk about it. Conway said Minister Lori Carr has been "absent" on these issues.

"This is, above all, a solutions-based report. My hope is that it will stem some action from this government because the human suffering is significant but the financial fallout is also significant," she said.

The Ministry of Social Services provided a statement from Carr.

"The ministry recently announced changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support program to better support clients with more complex needs who may be at risk of being homeless, and who require more support to see success. Saskatchewan's income assistance rates are similar — if not better — than those provided in other provinces," the statement said.

"We also continue to make investments in housing in our province, focusing on developing innovative projects with community partners that increase supported living options for our neighbours across Saskatchewan who need more than a home to remain connected to housing."

The flaws with SIS were brought up several times in the report. The program simply does not provide enough money to live on, Peter Gilmer, with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said.

The old program included previously guaranteed utilities, but now those costs be covered out of the general shelter/rental allowance.

"We need to make sure that people can get additional supports for housing if they need them, rather than having supports, or provisions like security deposits and rental supplements, clawed back dollar for dollar," he said.

"We know, doing this work, that people living in poverty live with greater levels of stress. However, I would suggest that we've reached an all-time high."

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