This week 620 CKRM will look at homelessness in the City of Regina through a five-part feature titled “Homeless in Regina.”
In part two, we talk to Mayor Sandra Masters, who has seen homelessness become a top priority for her and Regina City Council. Currently, the City invests $7.9 million annually toward programs and initiatives related to homelessness, social development, and well-being.
Masters said while the City of Regina does provide funding, its role is to be a partner.
“I think our role, as set out in the plan to end homelessness, is to facilitate the construction of affordable housing and to advocate with different levels of government for targeted funding to address the issue.”
Other roles the city plays are covering expenses like utilities for organizations and providing tax exemptions and grants for organizations.
Long-term, Masters said that the City’s role is to help address issues that can lead to homelessness – like substance abuse and intimate partner violence – and help provide wraparound supports and accessibility to those supports.
Masters said that role is currently expanding.
“We’re gonna get RT/SIS to operate the 29 housing units being constructed right now and opened later this year,” she said. “I think that when we partnered with the province and with RT/SIS on the 24 units we acquired last year, we put in folks from last year’s temporary shelter into full-time supervised wraparound service care. So those are the first of their kind in the City of Regina.”
Since coming into office in 2020, the Mayor has had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, record inflation, and increased substance abuse in the City. All things that have seen the City’s homeless population increase from around 280 to 488 as of the 2021 point-in-time count.
Despite the outside pressures forcing more people onto the streets, Masters believes the City has progressed.
“I think anytime you’re adding units, whether that’s supportive care 24/7, affordable social housing with onsite wraparound services, or you’re investing in things, like coordinated access to service. I think we have made progress.”
“I think where we’re playing and the partnerships we’ve been able to create have been much more progress than has existed before,” she continued. “I think we’ve got hundreds of affordable housing units that have hit the market in the last three years, making sure affordable housing units are there, and we’re helping to build those.”
Masters said outside forces like the pandemic, and the recent inflationary pressures had exacerbated the city’s homelessness, and the onset of fentanyl concerns the Mayor most.
“Fentanyl is an absolute scourge in our city. (From) 2018 to today, I think overdoses have gone up 300 per cent, directly tied to the introduction of fentanyl, which is cheap, easy to hide and incredibly addictive,” she said. “If someone’s main desire is to pursue something, which is a substance use disorder, it destabilizes everything. It destabilizes everything about their life.”
What is most concerning to the mayor about the issue is that despite the three levels of government working on solutions, no one has one. She said finding solutions to address issues like substance abuse to help people stabilize is a part of the City’s next step.
“If they develop relationships, almost a sense of community, and there’s a relationship with the service provider, with RT/SIS staff that actually helps stabilize. You need folks to stabilize in order to figure out if you’re capable of functioning and can enter into the housing continuum from that, knowing that you’ve got support coming from RT/SIS. I think that second-stage housing is really important.”
She said the City is also working on North Central, where they have about 1,000 vacant dwellings boarded up and unused.
“We’ve been in knocking buildings down, and we’re going to continue to work on cleaning up for the residents that we live there,” she said. “If we’ve got housing products that nobody wants to live in, we’ve got some work to do in that neighbourhood.”
She said while their role will continually involve and change, one thing that won’t is their desire to be partners.
“We’re gonna continue to advocate with the federal government on more reaching home money to build more units and keep working with the province and partnerships to fund the programming with the community-based organizations, expanding their capacity to provide the wraparound supports.”
Overall, Masters said the City has strong advocates and future investment, as well as continuing partnerships and collaboration on everything from cleaning up and making neighbourhoods to getting the appropriate housing stock, all of which should help the City in its plan to end homelessness.