Advocates call on Sask. government to reverse income support changes

Volunteers spent Tuesday morning building tents for unhoused people living in Regina’s Pepsi Park as the number of people now calling the park home continues to grow.

Advocates and community groups gathered at the camp to call for the provincial government to suspend a change to the income assistance program, claiming the program is leading to an increase in evictions and homelessness in Regina.

Peter Gilmer, an advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said the camp represents the “invisible suffering of thousands of people across Saskatchewan.” 

“This could be seen coming for a long time,” said Gilmer. “When the details of the Saskatchewan Income Support program came down in June of 2019 we predicted right off the bat that this was going to cause incredible hardship for people and a growth in homelessness. And two years later that’s exactly what we’re seeing.”

In 2019, the Ministry of Social Services announced the creation of the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program, which would replace the Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) and Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA).

SAP and TEA previously covered the cost of utilities for clients, but the new program puts the costs of rent, utilities, taxes and all other home-related costs under a shelter benefit, meaning a single adult will have to pay for all the home-related costs with $500-600 a month.

Clients also receive $285 to meet all other basic needs including food, transportation, clothing and personal items.

The ministry phased out the SAP and TEA and fully transferred all clients to the SIS program in August.

Meara Conway, the NDP’s social services and housing critic, said the crisis is the government’s own creation.

“We are currently facing a crisis, and I want to emphasize that this is a crisis of government’s own making. This was a slow moving car crash that everyone around me has been warning the government about since 2019,” said Conway.

The latest rental housing list from Carmichael Outreach shows there are no apartments available in Regina in the price range of someone receiving support from the SIS program. At the same time, the government owns 300 housing units in the city that are currently vacant.

Regina city councillor Shanon Zachidniak said the city is able to provide some assistance, but they also need the province’s help.

“The city can help to try and make this camp as comfortable as possible for folks, but what we really need is better solutions from the province,” she said.

About 14 people slept in the camp on Sunday night. Amenities – like an outhouse – are being brought in to make life a little easier for those staying in the tents.

The camp was formed after advocates and community groups met last week to discuss homelessness in the downtown area. While the forum was taking place on the steps of the Knox Metropolitan United Church, a woman, who was experiencing homelessness, died in Victoria Park of a suspected overdose.

The tent city has been named Camp Marjorie in her memory.

With files from CTV Saskatoon's Francois Biber and Colton Wiens