Regina’s newest warm-up centre, is looking for financial support from the provincial government as hundreds of people visit the shelter each day.
Awasiw opened its doors on Boxing Day. At first, it was only open at night, but it quickly transitioned to a 24 hour a day, seven day a week operation. It offers people, no matter what their condition, a place to warm up, use the washroom, receive a meal and socialize.
Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, partner of the centre, said the it needs more funding in order to continue helping people.
“Today, we have the city’s support for funding, we have the federal support for funding and the province has said no. We’re still knocking at that door. We still need money for Awasiw,” Kisikaw Piyesis, who is also the CEO of the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, said. “We still need to keep this work going in the community because we’re serving a population that’s underserved and not accessing care, treatment and support.”
Kisikaw Piyesis said Awasiw is Cree for “he or she warms up.”
“The Indigenous people have come to the forefront to help. We follow our own laws as Indigenous people and one of them is to take care of people that are walking through the doors,” she said. “We don’t ban people from coming in, they come in whatever condition they’re in, if they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol, if they’re disgruntled, if they’re mad at something - we know they’re not mad at us.”
In a press release, the Saskatchewan NDP is calling for immediate action from to province to secure funding for Awasiw.
“This warming centre was set up to meet a growing need in the community and it’s really doing life saving work,” Meara Conway, NDP Social Services Critic, said. “It’s simply incomprehensible to me that this government is not stepping up and providing those resources where they’re needed.”
Conway said she’s fearful that a lack of funding could pose a problem in the future of the centre.
“Right now what we’re seeing is that this incredible community has really stepped up to fill the need because the government has not, but how long can that go on?” she said.
“[The warming centre] was established a few weeks ago as an emergency stop-gap to prevent freezing deaths,” Meara Conway, NDP Social Services Critic, said. “It’s shameful that the Sask. Party government has refused to support this life-saving work.”
Conway said the province is sitting on millions of dollars in federal funding that could help this cause.
The Ministry of Social Services declined CTV’s request for an interview on this subject, but in a statement said it is in frequent contact with stakeholders so it can continue to serve vulnerable individuals and families as safely and effectively as possible.
“In both April and November 2020, the Ministry provided a boost of $171,000 to help emergency shelters continue to respond to the pressures brought on by COVID-19, and to help support them in their work to keep clients safe,” Jeff Redekop, executive director of Income Assistance Service Delivery with the ministry, said in the emailed statement.
The Ministry did not say whether this centre is eligible for the funding announced before it opened.
Kisikaw Piyesis said the warm up centre is accepting donations from the public. She said monetary donations can be made online and food donations can be made at the centre, but they ask for it to be individually wrapped when possible.
She said people can also call the centre before making a donation to see what it needs most.