City & partner agencies organize response to unhoused people in the community
The Saskatoon Fire Department has this week implemented a proactive emergency operations centre (EOC) to manage life safety and health issues related to those experiencing homelessness with the immediate goal of offering emergency shelter to anyone who is living outdoors.
“We believe there are likely over a hundred people who are without proper shelter in Saskatoon – that is, sleeping in the open or in makeshift shelters – so, we want to help them find safe, healthy and appropriate emergency shelter,” says Assistant Fire Chief Yvonne Raymer.
Raymer says this work has been ongoing but as the weather begins to turn, the situation is growing more emergent. The partner agencies including the Sawêyihtotân (suh-WAY-uh-toe-tahn) community outreach team led by the Saskatoon Tribal Council, the Saskatoon Housing Initiative Partnership (SHIP), Salvation Army, Saskatoon Police Service, and other agencies are working together to achieve four main goals:
- Identify the places or ‘camps’ where people are living in makeshift shelters
- Delegate a task force group to the camps
- Talk to the people who are unhoused to build trust
- Offer wrap-around supports: food, mental health and addiction support, access to elders and counselling, COVID testing, and ultimately long-term housing
"This is about working together as a whole community to support people in accessing emergency shelter – we are working on keeping individuals safe and finding ways to best support them with emergency wrap-around resources within our capacity. Right now, though, we can’t in good conscience allow people to live in the elements as the weather continues to get colder.
"We have learned from experiences in other municipalities that when large encampments happen, those create greater health and safety risks. We have already been called to fires at makeshift shelters. So, of course, we want to find a way around that and help people with viable, dignified options and continue to offer them supports, even if at first they decline," Raymer says.
Community outreach workers who are part of a task force will be at the forefront of this work. The team will work together to connect with those who are houseless in the locations where they are currently finding shelter in parks, natural areas, along the riverbank and other areas in Saskatoon.
The Saskatoon Fire Department recognizes homelessness is a complex issue which requires a whole-community response and it will continue to actively engage all partners in a collaborative process going forward.