2023-11. Homelessness and Liveable Social Support
Whereas SUMA members of all sizes are experiencing substantial issues with homelessness in their communities; and
Whereas the Government of Saskatchewan’s replacement of the Saskatchewan Assistance Program and the Saskatchewan Transitional Employment Allowance with the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) Program substantially decreased funding for those on social assistance, while all costs of living continue to rise; and
Whereas the average SIS client is short at least $300 monthly for the basic necessities of life, resulting in rent and utilities going unpaid, more evictions, and a higher demand for food banks; and
Whereas many landlords are now unwilling to rent to SIS recipients, and vacancy rates and trending downward, contributing to a direct increase in homelessness; and
Whereas thousands of social housing units sit vacant, many due to a lack of maintenance by the Saskatchewan Housing Authority; and
Whereas many of the homeless, including former SIS recipients, have other mental health and addictions issues that make them difficult to house without supportive housing options; and
Whereas the cost to the province and municipalities is exponentially higher to house the homeless in shelters, hospitals, and jails.
Therefore be it resolved that SUMA advocate the Province to immediately increase SIS rates to meet the basic cost of living, restore direct rent and utilities payments for all that need them, and develop more supportive housing options for those deemed “hard to house” due to mental health and addictions issues.
Acts affected: The Saskatchewan Assistance Act
Dear Randy Goulden:
Thank you for your email about the resolutions on homelessness and social supports adopted by SUMA members at the 118th Annual Convention.
The Ministry of Social Services continues to collaborate with Indigenous and community partners and all levels of government to improve outcomes for people experiencing homelessness.
Together, we are developing new approaches to better support individuals who need more than a home to remain connected to housing. Since 2021, we have invested $25 million in initiatives to address homelessness, including $14 million for new emergency shelter spaces and $11 million for affordable and supportive housing.
Saskatchewan Housing Corporation (SHC) administers the Rental Development Program, jointly funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) and SHC. Through this program, SHC provides capital cost funding for new affordable housing projects. SHC prioritizes projects that provide rental units for people who have difficulty accessing or maintaining stable housing because of addictions, mental health issues, or disabilities, including people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Most Rental Development Program projects include support services delivered by community agencies. SHC posted an expression of interest to solicit funding proposals for the Rental Development Program in December 2022, and is in the process of contacting the successful proponents.
SHC also offers the Social Housing Program, which provides affordable, safe, and adequate housing for households with low incomes. SHC owns more than 17,000 social housing units across the province. Vacant units in SHC's portfolio are often located in rural communities with low demand for social housing. Units in urban settings can be vacant because major repairs are needed, or the unit size or location does not match the needs or preferences of applicants. Over the past several years, SHC has addressed vacancy rates by increasing the asset limits for seniors and implementing policies to rent chronically vacant units to households that would not normally meet eligibility requirements for housing. SHC also divests chronically vacant units in communities with little demand for housing and invests the proceeds in high-need communities and neighbourhoods. In addition, SHC continues to invest in its housing portfolio to ensure units are available where they are needed. Last year, SHC invested $79.3 million to maintain, modernize, and improve units, and in 2023-24, SHC expects to invest $73.2 million.
To address vacancies in core neighbourhoods, SHC recently developed the North Central Regina Pilot Project. In 2021, SHC launched the pilot project to fill 10chronically vacant units in Regina's north central neighbourhood. For this project, SHC developed a streamlined application process and set rent at a flat rate so it can be shared by roommates or families who choose to cohabitate. This year, because of the success of the pilot, SHC is expanding the project.
SHC also develops community partnerships to reduce vacancies while continuing to provide safe and affordable housing. Organizations that provide support services can apply to use SHC-owned properties as housing for their clients. SHC accepts proposals on a continuous basis and each agreement is unique.
Examples of community partnership projects include:
- Phoenix Residential Society: In December 2022, Phoenix Residential Society began leasing a 24-unit SHC-owned property in Regina to house their clients. Phoenix staff are onsite 24/7 to provide client support, while the Regina Housing Authority manages the building's maintenance.
- EGADZ: In November 2019, SHC began a partnership with EGADZ for the use of a 24-unit building in Saskatoon. The Fusion 22 program supports single mothers recovering from substance abuse.
- Cress Housing Corporation: In December 2021, tenants moved into a 24-unit building in Saskatoon where Saweyihtotan Community Outreach provides support services to residents.
- Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services (RT/SIS): In April 2022, SHC began a partnership with RT/SIS to provide supportive housing for 24 individuals experiencing homelessness. While living in SHC-owned duplexes, residents receive support services from RT/SIS.
Last fall, SHC announced the Saskatchewan Housing Benefit (SHB) Supportive Housing Stream, which is available to people living in supportive housing arrangements. Individuals living in supportive housing receive support services for challenges such as mental health conditions, addictions and behaviour issues that make it difficult for them to find or maintain stable housing. The Supportive Housing Stream is different from the core SHB program because applicants are not subject to income or asset limits, and individuals who receive assistance from the Supportive Housing Stream can also receive income assistance benefits.
The ministry offers income assistance through two core programs: the Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program and the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program.
The SIS program supports people to become self-sufficient to the best of their abilities.
The programs provide for basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter, and an array of additional individual needs such as prescribed diets, the education and training incentive, and travel benefits.
The SAID program supports people with significant and enduring disabilities, and households who receive SAID benefits are provided a fixed monthly payment and have access to additional benefits related to their disability, such as special food items or home care. To ensure that people who receive SAID are not vulnerable to utility rate increases, the ministry also pays the actual cost of power, energy, and water for SAID clients. Depending on the need of the client, shelter and utility benefits can be paid to the client or directly to vendors and landlords.
This year, for the second year in a row, SIS clients are receiving higher benefits. The Adult Basic Benefit, Shelter Benefit, and Alternate Heating Benefit each increased by $30 per month, providing an additional $14.3 million in SIS benefit payments to people in need. The SAID program's budget also increased this year and the Living Income benefit increased by $30 per month. The SAID program also covers the actual costs of additional items based on the individual's needs such as travel related to education, or medical needs outside the community of residence, special diets, and other disability-related needs.
In comparison to previous programs, SIS has a simple, flat-rate benefit structure, which reduces the complexity of benefits and increases transparency for clients. SIS clients may also be eligible for the Stabilization Benefit, which provides $150 per month to people who have difficulty obtaining or maintaining stable housing. Through the SIS program, the ministry is also able to provide Short Term Emergency Benefits for emergency shelter, meals, or transportation.
The former Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP) and the Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA) programs ended August 31, 2021. Rates for each program varied by location and family composition. These amounts do not include additional or exceptional SIS, SAP, or TEA benefits for specific cases.
Here is how the rates for the programs compare for an unattached person with no income renting in Regina or Saskatoon:
- TEA: $563 per month. Additional benefits were also provided for utilities at flat rates: $84 for power; $93 for energy and $30 for water.
- SAP: $583 per month. Additional benefits were also provided for the actual cost of utilities.
- SIS: $975 per month for rent and utilities.
Similar to the previous SAP and TEA programs, the majority of SIS clients manage their own affairs like any other citizen, including paying their own rent, damage deposits, and utilities. For SIS clients with complex needs who are at risk of homelessness, the ministry may provide direct payments of SIS benefits to landlords or utility companies.
For people receiving SIS or SAID benefits who need help managing their benefits, the ministry offers trusteeship and money management support. A trustee can be a friend, family member, community-based organization, or advocate. For individuals interested in money management education, the ministry can arrange setting up automated bill payments, budgeting skills, and more. This year, we are investing an additional $456,000 in funding to partner agencies to support 300 more clients with trusteeship arrangements and money management education. The Ministry of Social Services continues to work with community partners to improve how trusteeship and money management supports are delivered across the province.
The ministry is also piloting new ways to reach and support individuals experiencing homelessness. In the 2023-24 budget, the ministry allocated $656,000 to develop a pilot project that will deliver outreach services to people within facilities operated by community-based organizations. This initiative focuses on support for clients who have emergent needs and may be experiencing homelessness. As part of the pilot project, mobile income assistance workers will accept applications for the SIS and SAID programs, assist with obtaining the necessary documentation, complete service level screenings, provide referrals to appropriate community resources, and help secure housing.
We know that more needs to be done, and we are committed to continue working with our partners to help the province's most vulnerable individuals, while evaluating our programs and initiatives to ensure they are effective.
Thank you for your leadership as the voice of Saskatchewan's communities and municipalities and for advocating for the most vulnerable in our province.
Minister of Social Services