Father advocates for change at Regina's Raising Hope on behalf of his late daughter

A Regina man is demanding change at a local shelter after his daughter died four months after being allegedly evicted.

Roland Desjarlais's daughter, Marilyn Gordon, was 30 years-old when she died of a fatal drug overdose. She was the mother of four young children.

"Marilyn spent the Christmas holidays with just me and her family," Desjarlais said. "She spoke repeatedly about reunification with their children and how important that was to her. Tragically, I found her deceased in her bed on the morning of Sunday, January 3, six days after being denied re-admission to the government-funded program."

Desjarlais said his daughter was evicted from the Raising Hope in September 2020. Raising Hope is a government funded-program, operated by the Street Workers Advocacy Project (SWAP).

“She was always so grateful when people sought to understand our story of trauma and help recognize that her mental illness and substance use disorder was a disease," Desjarlais said. "Like any other chronic disease, she was learning that her self-destructive behaviours were as a result of trauma and untreated mental illness. She thrived in an environment of compassion and connection."

Desjarlais alleges that Gordon was evicted after speaking out against injustices within the organization.

"My grief has been intensified by what I've learned about the treatment my daughter received," Desjarlais said.

Desjarlais and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) are calling for immediate change within the organization of Raising Hope.

"Marilyn is one example, and sadly why does someone have to die in order for attention or change," Heather Bear, FSIN Vice Chief, said. "That's the sad part of this whole story because it just didn't start with Marilyn's death, there were issues before and we need to make that change."

The Chief of the FSIN said he appreciates that the government has engaged in conversations with previous employees and residents of Raising Hope but said changes need to be made now and to not wait for a review to be conducted.

"It's hard not to stand up here and not be angry because the system has failed and will continue to fail if there's no change," Bobby Cameron, Chief of the FSIN said. "We don't need a review or independent investigation, we know what's wrong.”

Last year, allegations of mismanagement and abusive behaviour from employees within Raising Hope were alleged by former employees and residents of the shelter.

Last week, the Government of Saskatchewan committed to a review of the organization.

“The Ministry has contracted MNP to conduct an independent, third-party program and board governance review of the Raising Hope Moving Families Forward program and the Street Worker’s Advocacy Project,” Mitch Tremblay, ED of Child and Family Programs Community Services, Ministry of Social Services, said. “Our understanding is this review process will include MNP reaching out to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.”

Desjarlais said he plans to file a lawsuit against SWAP and Raising Hope.