Saskatoon shelter operator says incoming emergency facility will fill gap in system

The former SLGA liquor store is expected to be used for an emergency complex needs shelter in Saskatoon. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC - image credit)
The former SLGA liquor store is expected to be used for an emergency complex needs shelter in Saskatoon. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC - image credit)

A pair of emergency shelters for people with complex needs are being prepared to open in Regina and Saskatoon, though it's unclear when. When they do, they are expected to help with homelessness issues that have deeply affected both cities.

The emergency shelters are expected to provide 15 temporary beds to house people with complex needs who are intoxicated and are acting in a way that may be dangerous to themselves or others.

"It's incredibly needed. It's been a gap in the system," Gordon Taylor, executive director at Salvation Army in Saskatoon, said of the Saskatoon shelter.

The Salvation Army runs its own 75-bed men's emergency shelter in Saskatoon. It is running at near-capacity in the summer and is rarely not at capacity in the winter, Taylor said.

Taylor said that while the new emergency shelter will be helpful, it won't put a dent in the need for shelter beds.

"[It] won't have a big impact on the overall number of shelter beds in the city, because it is just for a limited time and people will be taken there by police. It's a totally different system than the shelter system."

According to provincial documents, the minister of health and minister of corrections, policing and public safety were given approval to sign an agreement with EHN Canada Inc. on Feb. 7. The government agreed to pay the company up to nearly $820,000 for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which is now over, and $9,653,400 for the 2024-25 fiscal year.

The shelters are meant to provide "secure and medically supervised detention."

"Care will be provided by dedicated health care staff with the support of security personnel. Discharge planning will ensure individuals leaving the site are provided transportation to other support services," the Ministry of Health said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

It said the EHN is in the process of hiring and training staff and the shelters will open "as soon as possible once this work is complete."

CBC contacted EHN about the company's opening plan but did not receive a reply. As first reported by CKOM, the company has listed jobs for security personnel, nurses, and mental health and addiction treatment support workers.

During his state of the city address in Saskatoon on Tuesday, Mayor Charlie Clark said the city wants to get more shelters open for people who have addictions or are homeless.

"This is a facility that, as I understand, is going to be a really key part of helping us address — particularly people who are in psychosis and, in some cases, violent," he said.

"We're hoping that we're going to get that open within weeks."

In both cities, residents in the areas around the intended shelter locations argued against them.

"The area is already prone to heavy crime, vandalism, break-ins. There's a lot of drug use, needles behind our building," said Jennifer Shire at a Saskatoon council meeting in November 2023. Shire owns a business a block away from the proposed Saskatoon location, at the former site of an SLGA liquor store on Idylwyld Drive N. and 38th Street W.

In Regina, the chosen site is a former Saskatchewan Health Authority facility at 430 Pioneer Drive.

"We're not equipped to deal with that, and we already have issues with people rifling through yards and alleys. Needles in parks are very real things that our community is already struggling with," Alex Tkach, chair of the Rosemount Mount Royal Community Association, said during a public meeting in March 2024.