United Way aims to end homelessness in Saskatoon: Two day event patterned after successes from other cities

By Bryn Levy May 13, 2013 - The United Way is holding a two-day forum to come up with a plan to end homelessness. The event is called a charette. It's a concept taken from the world of architecture and design firms. The idea is a short-term, intensive gathering of stakeholders tasked with coming up with a concrete set of recommendations.

Those recommendations will be released Thursday. They will then be folded into the United Way's Plan to End Homelessness.

It's an approach that has yielded fruit in Calgary, said Sheri Benson, executive director of United Way Saskatoon. She noted that Saskatoon has an even bigger challenge ahead of it.

We do know that the number of homeless people in Saskatoon this fall (was) a bigger problem than when they started to look at it in Calgary. So proportionally although the number is smaller we have a bigger issue."

Day one opened with an expert panel giving their views on the issue, and hearing some straight talk from about 150 people who showed up to the event at TCU Place.

Among them was David Fineday. He got up to deliver a first-hand account of his experiences with the city's housing shortage. After a year of couch-surfing, Fineday said he found a place a few months ago. Shortly after he forked over his damage deposit and first month's rent, the ceiling collapsed in his bedroom. Fineday's been stuck in that situation now for four months.

"What can I do? I cant afford to move out of there, I cant afford to find a new place," he said to the panel, which included Saskatoon Police Service Chief Clive Weighill, Saskatoon Deputy Minister of Corrections and Policing Dale McFee and Saskatoon Councillor Charlie Clark.

Fineday went on to note that in his current position at the Friendship Inn, he sees examples of people who are hard-pressed to pull themselves out of poverty when they can't even meet their most basic needs.

"A lot of you people have credit cards you can hide alot of things with (those) credit cards. We can't hide those things with credit cards, that's why there's people out there," he said.

Weighill said that in the wake of the death of Alvin Cote, the forum gave him hope that his officers would soon be able to devote less of their time to handling the fallout of the homelessness and get back to catching criminals.

"I think our people areaccustomed to dealing with this day in and day out... certainly I think there's a frustration amongst all of us from myeslef right to the constables on the street of trying to get the issues of mental health, substance abuse, poverty, racism, all those issues that are so complex and we need some solutions to help people live in a dignified manner," he said.

Benson said she is confident that people in Saskatoon will get behind the plan when it is released this June.

"I think we'll get a response from the community (of), 'Yeah, let's go for it,'" she said.

The forum' second day at TCU Place on May 14 is open to the public and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

(c) Rawlco 2013