March 24, 2021
Good Afternoon Mayor Masters and City Councillors;
I am here on behalf of the Heritage Community Association (HCA) to urge you to increase City support to community-based organizations that are working to meet the basic needs and improve the safety of people who are unhoused, using drugs, food insecure, or otherwise under-supported by our current systems.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has exacerbated and made more visible several longstanding and overlapping crises in many of our neighbourhoods.
Poisoned drug supplies killed over 111 people in our city last year, and 30 already as of early March 2021. Newo Yotina Friendship Centre has opened an emergency Overdose Prevention Site to help save lives, but they don’t have the resources to keep it open beyond Monday to Friday, 9-4, or for longer than a few months. Other community-based organizations such as AIDS Program South Saskatchewan, Queen City Patrol, Heritage Helpers and the Heritage Community Association have all stepped up in various ways, distributing naloxone kits, picking up needles from our alleys, and offering harm reduction activities. These groups are doing this work because they see a need and they care deeply for their communities, but it is not sustainable to continue leaving this work to volunteers and non-profits that are already stretched too thin.
Homelessness is on the rise, and the pandemic has exposed some serious gaps in this city’s services for people who are unhoused. When libraries, drop-in centres and businesses closed to the public, hundreds of people who relied on those spaces for somewhere warm to go during a winter day, were left to suffer on the cold streets. Non-profits that serve the unhoused have scrambled to retrofit their spaces, develop new policies, re-orient their programming, and make impossible choices between meeting the basic needs of their clients and ensuring the health of their staff and volunteers. All Nations Hope Network and the YWCA have shown heroic effort in getting Awasiw Warming Shelter off the ground with the City’s support, but its capacity and sustainability in the long-term is unknown.
Food insecurity is a longstanding issue in many Regina communities, and has been hugely exacerbated by the pandemic. Students doing remote learning are unable to access school meal programs, and many families are struggling financially due to job losses on top of ongoing austerity by the provincial government’s Ministry of Social Services. Pre-existing meal programs are maxed out, even with additional food security efforts popping up. In the Heritage neighbourhood, both HCA and Trinity Lutheran Church significantly expanded our food security efforts last year, and still, pre-existing food services such as Carmichael Outreach’s lunch program are consistently tapped out. The free mini pantries that HCA manages in partnership with volunteer community members are almost always fully emptied within an hour of being filled.
Non-profit organizations and community members are doing everything we can to take care of one another, to keep our neighbours alive and fed and housed and safe. We are exhausted. We are doing this work with next to no money, and volunteer labour, and still we are doing great work. But it’s not sustainable.
Not only is increasing investment in community supports the right thing to do, it also has the potential to save the City a lot of money. In 2018, Phoenix Residential released an update on their past 4 years (2014-2018) of running a Housing First program for 49 people. The program decreased calls for those participants to police by 81%, saving the City an estimated $268,000 in policing costs. Overall, the program saved an estimated $2,267,759 in EMS, policing, hospital stays, emergency room visits, and detox visits. This evidence mirrors research from other cities that consistently shows that investing in community-based programs and services (which are relatively affordable) reduces the need for expensive emergency services down the road. If the City is looking for future efficiencies, making smarter investments upstream through community-based organizations is a great place to start.
We know that the provincial government has responsibility for investing more money in many of these issues, but in the longstanding absence of their support, you as Mayor and Council have a responsibility to use all of the tools available to you to take care of your residents.
With this in mind, we strongly encourage Council to consider the following tangible actions:
- Increase City funding to overdose prevention sites and other harm reduction activities
- Commit to significant, long-term investment in the Plan to End Homelessness and more Housing First programs in our city
- Increase funding available to community-based organizations through the Community Investment Grants Program
- Continue to lobby the provincial government to invest more in healthcare, social services, and addictions services including overdose prevention and harm reduction
Thank you for listening. I am open to your questions.