Extra assist wanted for Saskatoon homeless earlier than second COVID-19 wave: advocate

A spokesman for a group of shelters and agencies working to protect Saskatoon’s vulnerable population said it needed more support to keep its customers safe, especially before a potential second wave of the novel coronavirus hits.

Colleen Christopherson-Cote, of the Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to COVID-19, said the province’s reopening strategy had largely ignored groups dealing with the homeless and those suffering from substance abuse.

She also said the Inter-Agency Response has a budget to keep everyone safe, including providing water bottles, groceries, and personal protective equipment (PPE) to customers and employees for the next year, but it is $ 237,000 short.

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The group includes more than 50 organizations like AIDS Saskatoon and the Friendship Inn that joined forces in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit Saskatchewan.

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It has coordinated efforts and resources to protect the city’s vulnerable population, and last week the city of Saskatoon allocated $ 117,000 to do so.

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Christopherson-Cote said the group has built a strong working relationship with the city and that is almost all of the government aid it has received.

“Most of the response … came from publicly funded, private donations, community-borne resources, and had very little to do with provincial investments,” she told Global News.

The $ 237,000 funding gap is on top of the Saskatoon City funding and on top of the agencies’ regular budget requirements.

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Christopherson-Cote said it was expensive to provide essentials and that Inter-Agency Response is currently spending $ 30,000 a month on PPE – a cost it fears will rise if the government makes masks mandatory and the price goes up.

She also said the province’s reopening strategy does not include the type of information that the inter-agency inns need.

The inn used to offer hot meals and now only offers take-away meals.

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It’s one of the strategies that the group developed on their own.

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Christopherson-Cote said the group is now maintaining services to customers, monitoring COVID cases in downtown core and tracking “triggers” that would escalate further response.

But she worries about what would happen if the province were hit by a second wave and how it would affect services.

“If there is a surge and we’re talking about reducing or closing down services again, we have to keep track of a handful of things to make sure people can still access them.”

She doesn’t just mean access to food or government aid.

Public washrooms in Saskatoon were closed for many weeks beginning in March, leaving the homeless with few good opportunities to relieve or wash.

In a statement, the Department of Social Services said it is working closely with its Saskatoon community partners to ensure the safety of vulnerable people.

“We are asking this organization to reach out to government officials to discuss what additional needs they may have. We’re always open to meeting community partners and sharing ideas on how we can better work together to help vulnerable people in Saskatchewan. “

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