Saskatoon Tribal Council Expulsion Rule Sparks Harm Reduction Concerns

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The recent resolution by the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) to expel heavy drug users from their shelter has set off alarm bells among the community’s harm reduction advocates. Kayla DeMong, an active voice in this concern, foresees the move as a death sentence for many as the unforgiving winter looms.

STC Chief Mark Arcand confirmed the controversial decision earlier this week. The new ruling, slated to take effect from the 1st of October, restricts access for nearly 30 individuals classified with “complex needs”. The chief clarified that those unable to abstain from drug use within the shelter would be denied entry.

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DeMong, leader of the city’s only safe consumption site, predicts exacerbation of an already worrisome situation.

She leaves no room for doubt when stating the harsh reality: “The number of individuals forced to sleep in the bitter cold is inevitably going to rise, and with it so does the risk of death.”

DeMong, shouldering the responsibility of executive director at Prairie Harm Reduction, provides an insight into the gravity of the issue. “We’re amid the largest homelessness crisis ever witnessed, and watching our valuable resources shun those in desperate need is profoundly distressing.”

She goes on to underscore the persistent stigma against drug users and the glaring lack of suitable funding from provincial and federal public services for effective support programs.

The fundamental hurdle to secure housing appears to be Saskatchewan’s Income Support program (SIS), to which both Arcand and DeMong point. With the living wage in Saskatoon being declared at $18.95 an hour, SIS support falls significantly short, equaling a wage of roughly $9 an hour.

Accusingly, DeMong states, “Here we are, forcing people to eke out their existence on measly allowance, with an unrealistic expectation of a quality life upgrade. With rent, bills, and food expenses impossible to cover, it’s a wonder we feign surprise when they end up on the streets.”

In 2019, SIS introduced a change in their payment system, shifting from direct payments to landlords and utilities to providing funds directly to the clients.

It is noteworthy that the Social Services ministry maintained post Arcand’s announcement, that the Saskatchewan Government is committed to working closely with community partners on this issue, promising updates with time.

In August, the police board of Saskatoon bemoaned the dearth of resources, and petitioned the regional ministers of Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Social Services to establish new facilities and support systems for individuals with complex needs.

According to a September report by Saskatoon’s Community Support Program, the city’s mainstay for social issue resolution, there are alarmingly lesser services available for vulnerable people despite their best efforts.

Considering the grim scenario, DeMong urges that those in power listen to the experts and confirms, “As a premier, the sight of my people sleeping on the streets while I did nothing would leave me filled with shame.”

She concludes that support mechanisms must be readily available at the point of need. It should not be predetermined by external assumptions of where they should be situated.

Beyond the call of duty, DeMong truly empathises with those struggling through life altering trauma and insurmountable hurdles. Systematically demanding them to halt substance abuse instantaneously, seems a far cry from realism.