Regina's emergency shelter faces challenges in first three weeks of operation – Regina Leader-Post

Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services staff say the struggle to get people to accept the help they need has been a challenge.
Despite the creation of an emergency shelter to house Camp Hope residents three weeks ago, the struggle to get people to accept the help they need remains.
The challenge highlights the complexity of drug addiction and the reality that the mere existence of resources isn’t always enough, said Erica Beaudin, executive director of Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RTSIS).
“Even when we do try to connect them with these services, they’re refusing them,” she said in an interview Monday. “Which in some way gets a lot of the existing systems off the hook by saying, ‘Well we are offering the service and they don’t want to take them,’ when in actuality the issue is much deeper.”
RTSIS operates the 40-bed emergency shelter, established in partnership with the City of Regina and the Saskatchewan government. It supports former residents of Camp Hope, a tent city established in mid-October to assist people experiencing homelessness that advocates say stem from recent changes to the Saskatchewan Income Support Program (SIS).
The camp hosted approximately 100 people and was taken down in mid-November when the emergency shelter, located in a former fitness facility in the Warehouse District, was ready. RTSIS calls each “bed” a pod, which includes a cot, a table and a chair. People are allowed to bring one backpack in with them, with the option of a bin to store some additional personal items. Anything that doesn’t fit in the backpack or the bin is stored with family or friends.
Beaudin said the shelter has remained at capacity since it’s became operational, with 20 to 25 people on a wait list. They also have turn away up to five people daily who walk in looking for a place to stay.
“We’ve been told by people who are staying with us how grateful they are to have a place to stay, that in many instances this is the first shower that people have taken in weeks if not months. We also hear the stories that they do feel like they’re throwaways of society and that there is very little hope in terms of true systemic relevant response,” Beaudin said. For staff, “It’s very difficult to work within this reality on a daily basis and to take it home everyday.”
When the residents who won’t accept additional help remain in the shelter, she said it forces them to also act as an emergency room and a detox facility, services RTSIS is not funded to provide. Drug use is not permitted in the building or on the property, and she said staff work vigilantly to ensure people understand the kind of facility they are entering.
“We did not want to become an inside extension of Camp Hope,” Beaudin. “It was not a safe consumption site because there’s very strict parameters about what is a safe consumption site …  It was basically a safer overdose site where people did what they wanted, and hopefully there was a person who witnessed that so that they could administer Narcan.”
Despite the new rules at the shelter, Beaudin said they deal with overdoses everyday, luckily none so far that have resulted in death. With many people on the waiting list who are willing not to use on site, other arrangements are made for those who refuse to abide by the rules. The issue has forced RTSIS to increase their staffing. There are usually about 15 staff on site who work eight-hour shifts.
The same way the mere existence of resources isn’t always enough to support a person with addiction, Beaudin said a place to live isn’t the silver bullet solution for homelessness either.
“That is probably about step five or six, and society or governmental systems have to start working on steps one to four before they start thinking that the answer is getting people into vacant houses,” she said, referring to the need for spiritual, mental, physical and emotional health as well.
In the meantime, she says success may come in many shapes and forms over the six-month span of the shelter, from simply providing much-needed nutrition to getting people into housing and set up with essential wrap-around care.
“It’s a very complex issue. I wish that we could blame just one governmental policy like SIS, but the fact is that’s just the latest in a long list of governmental policies that have hindered rather than helped people … be able to survive,” Beaudin said.
She said the need for systemic change, and a more relevant and responsive approach to the unique issues faced by Regina’s most vulnerable, has been discussed for decades.
“We are … an agency response to the situation of (homelessness) in Regina and it didn’t begin or end at Camp Hope,” Beaudin said.
Meanwhile, Camp Hope lives on as volunteers from the tent city continue advocacy work and other initiatives to support the city’s homeless or those at risk.
“When the camp packed up, it’s not like we could just neatly roll out a mission accomplished banner. There’s still so much work to do,” Alysia Johnson, one of Camp Hope’s organizers, said in an interview Monday.
“And whether we physically have the existence of a camp or not, you still have all of that heart and all of that passion and all of those people wanting to stand in solidarity with our community and pursue actions towards a more just community for everyone who lives here.”
She said they have been as busy as ever organizing Christmas hampers, filling community fridges, helping to house 20 people, continuing community discussions and supporting two new moms in the Camp Hope community. One volunteer has even become a foster parent for one of the babies, helping to keep the Camp Hope family together.
“We’re grateful that Camp Hope made some waves,” Johnson said. “But there’s a continued push and I think just an overall recognition that the work isn’t done.”
jackerman@postmedia.com
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