Long-term Northwoods guests highlight need for affordable housing in Saskatoon

NEWS TALK 980- May 29, 2015-The displacement of families living at Northwoods Inn and Suites highlights the need for affordable housing in Saskatoon.

There were 30 people living on social assistance at the hotel before 21 rooms were deemed unfit to live in by health inspectors. Issues identified included plumbing leaks, rodents and insect infestations. Several of those families have been forced to find a new home.

It can be difficult for individuals trying to find a place to live but it’s extremely hard for families, according to Barb MacPherson, executive director of the YWCA. She said landlords often subtly discriminate against families with several children.

“They don’t want kids because of course kids are harder on a home. They need more room so the cost is even more,” she explained.

Marie-Eve Smith was living in one of the rooms with her husband and six children. She said living at the hotel is horrible but it’s better than bouncing around. She described infestations of bedbugs and mice. She said she couldn't let her kids outside due to rampant drug and gang activity in the complex.

Mothers and their children will often stay at the YWCA shelter during their housing search. While no one wants to live in a shelter, MacPherson said they definitely are not a place for a child because of the long-term effects the instability can have on their psycho-social development.

"I wouldn't want to be in a shelter but more importantly, I wouldn't want my children or my grandchildren to be in a shelter,” MacPherson said.

The housing hunt can be tedious, with landlords often offering places to tenants who show up with cash in hand. Individuals living on social assistance need their location approved by social services before receiving payment.

MacPherson understands the checks and balances needed by a government service but said the bureaucracy can hinder people on social assistance in securing a rental property.

The Smith family has until June 2 to find a place to live before the family is separated. She and her youngest children can stay at a women’s shelter but her husband and two youngest sons will have to live elsewhere.

Families often stay at the YWCA shelter longer than individuals. It’s not unusual for them to still be searching for a home by the end of the time limit. They are then forced to find another shelter to stay in or couch surf before they can return.

"We definitely know there are challenges and barriers and it comes down to a lack of affordable housing and the ability to find something for those families," MacPherson said, adding there is a movement in Saskatoon towards creating more affordable housing but the city has a long way to go to meet its needs.

The YWCA shelter is full nearly every day. It accommodates approximately 1,000 women and children in a year but turns down about 1,500 requests.

MacPherson said those numbers increased during the economic boom, which was lucrative for some and a bust for many. Before 2008, it was seldom anyone staying at the shelter had a job but now that's the norm. Working women are often forced to make a choice between buying groceries and paying rent. When they choose groceries, they lose their home and then need to find another place that they can afford.

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