'This is a tough job': Cold snap fills beds at Saskatoon Tribal Council wellness centre

After being open for 28 days, the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) emergency wellness centre had 295 intakes with an average stay of five days.

STC Chief Mark Arcand says the statistics the centre has collected since it opened on Dec. 15 are “alarming.”

“There are 1,512 beds that have been utilized in the last four weeks, so that’s a significant amount of beds when we’re maxed out at 50, probably 54 beds per night,” Arcand said during a media conference.

Arcand says throughout the 28 days, seven people and one pet have stayed the entire time.

STC is looking for a second facility, saying that during the cold snap over the holidays, their lobby was filled with people unable to get beds.

Arcand says an Indigenous family was evicted on Christmas Eve and was able to find a warm place to stay thanks to the centre. STC also employed a person staying at the shelter to help with the maintenance of the building.

The centre has seen 14 overdoses, 10 inside and four outside, with all surviving. Two-thirds of the people staying at the centre have mental health and addictions issues, which is a “severe situation” the STC is dealing with.

“This is a tough job. For the community to think that we’re opening up a spa or a nice place to deal with all this, they’re wrong,” Arcand said.

SAFE SPACE

The centre has a room where people staying can keep their belongings in bins, something other shelters in the city may not offer.

“This could be all they have as an individual and it’s safe here. So they leave, they get it all,” Arcand said.

“This is a safe space, especially the women (who) have said it’s the safest they’ve felt in a long time.”

Lanny Mcdonald is a cultural support worker at the centre and says when they offer cigarettes, they ask people to say something positive about themselves.

“The one relative said that this is by far the best shelter he’s ever stayed at and that was really good to hear,” Mcdonald said.

While there have been many positive experiences, Arcand said there have been some negative ones as well. He says an overdose was happening while a family was staying at the centre.

“We don’t want the kids to see this, it’s a really negative circumstance but it happens day-to-day when you’re doing this type of work,” Arcand said.

CITY HAS STEPPED UP

Arcand says the centre has reached 95 per cent of its funding goals. Earlier this week, the United Way of Saskatoon gave a $65,000 donation.

“I’m proud to say the community of Saskatoon has stepped up in a huge way. We’ve roughly received about $157,000 worth of private and corporate donations,” Arcand said.

The centre also received additional provincial funding from the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation for $519,750, according to the STC.

Arcand says most of the money goes to staffing eight to 12 people.