City urged to fund homelessness plan

By Charles Hamilton, The Starphoenix November 13, 2013 - Advocates for the homeless say the City of Saskatoon must play a key role in housing 23 of the city's chronically homeless people, who cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

A delegation from the United Way's Plan to End Homelessness met with city councillors on Tuesday, urging them to provide $125,000 to help kick-start the plan.

"We can have all the good intentions in the world, but we need money," said Grant McGrath, the chair the United Way's Saskatoon Plan to End Homelessness board, in a presentation to council's executive committee.

The United Way has already raised over $400,000 from private donors and another $50,000 from corporate donors to help fund the initiative, which is based on the Housing First model.

It focuses on finding permanent homes for people on the street before tackling other issues they might have, such as unemployment, mental health problems or addictions issues.

The cash is just a drop in the bucket compared to the potential savings, the committee heard.

A study released by Saskatoon's Safe Streets Commission tracked the public service usage of 23 of the city's chronically homeless and found they were using $2.8 million worth of public resources annually.

Most of those resources are funded by the province, not by the city.

"The city cannot carry this on its own, and it shouldn't carry this on its own," said Coun. Charlie Clark.

While Clark and most other councillors supported giving the program $125,000 from city coffers, they also said other levels of government should chip in.

The 23 people tracked by the study visited hospital emergency rooms 2,389 times, at a cost of $1.9 million.

Combined, they took 1,185 ambulance trips at a cost of $385,125, and they used the brief detox centre 1,200 times, at a cost of $168,000.

Most of those costs are related to health care and social services, and potential savings would benefit the province, the committee heard.

Still, councillors were urged not to wait for the province to get on board.

"We can help people while others figure out and see this is working," said Sheri Benson, CEO of Saskatoon and Area United Way.

The plan would employ an "intensive case management approach" that would provide not only shelter but access to case workers who would act as "go-to" people for the clients.

The city's money would fund the initial contract for the work of identifying the 23 people, finding them homes and setting up their management plans.

The goal of the Plan to End Homelessness is to house the 23 people by June 2014.

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