by Cheyenne Geyson
With the snow flying, most of us are happiest in our homes with our windows and doors snugly closed. Maybe we have a blanket and some hot chocolate. The wind is just a sound. We’re safe from frostbite and “freezing to death” is a hyperbole we use to complain about Old Man Winter.
There are those in Regina who aren’t so fortunate. Sleeping in unheated garages, in doorways, and under park benches in -50 is frighteningly common in our city. With a vacancy rate of only .8 per cent, there simply isn’t enough housing to go around.
“Less than one rental unit per hundred is available right now,” said Devon Floyd, community outreach coordinator at Regina’s Carmichael Outreach Centre.
Carmichael recently put a call out to the citizens of Regina to donate used camping equipment – a solution Floyd calls “a last resort option for people.”
“(This initiative) reflects the severity of the housing crisis in the city. Camping gear isn’t really made for Saskatchewan climate, but (a tent will) at least protect you from the wind.”
The call-out is an extension of the Red Tent Campaign, a national strategy to bring awareness to Canada’s homelessness crisis and to pressure government to take action on homelessness throughout the country. On Oct. 19 organizations and individuals throughout the country displayed red tents to illustrate the need for a national housing strategy.
“We’re in full agreement with that (campaign’s message),” said Floyd.
He maintained that so far the federal government has not taken any action aside from commissioning a report on the need for a national housing strategy, and responding with a “two-page list of things they’re already doing, and (saying that) there is no problem.”
In Floyd’s view, the refusal of all levels of government to acknowledge the homelessness crisis is the root of the problem.
“In their eyes, there is no poverty problem.”
In the spring budget, the provincial government announced the start of a housing program that was expected to provide 1,000 affordable housing units for low-to-moderate-income families and individuals.
“That was the promise in the budget speech, and since then, there’s been no headway on it,” said Floyd, who has kept in regular contact with provincial representatives via e-mail since the announcement was made. “They actually hadn’t developed the program before they announced it … and now they’re trying to figure out how they’re (going to do it).”
The provincial body in charge of housing, the ministry of social services, declined to comment.
Even the lowest level of government appears to be closing their eyes to the issue of homelessness in the city.
According to Kaeli Madill, media and communications officer for the city of Regina, “(homelessness and housing initiatives) are largely a provincial issue. We have shelters, and we support the United Way and other organizations, but the province has the money.”
“It has a lot to do with political will, and if you don’t want to look at poverty as a problem in your city then you just choose to ignore it,” said Floyd, citing the Leader-Post article in which Mayor Pat Fiacco responded to allegations of high crime rates in Regina as ‘BS’ as an example of the civic leaders willingness to stick their heads in the sand when things are less than perfect.
“It’s kind of frustrating when you know that there are people who are going to be sleeping outside this winter.”
While political inaction frustrates those who run organizations such as Carmichael, they know they are not alone in their endeavours - regular citizens who volunteer and donate are those who keep their doors open and allow them to provide as much assistance as possible.
“It’s definitely just individuals in the community that have always helped us out,” Floyd said. “So that’s kind of why we want to give these people the opportunity to help out people who are going to be sleeping outside.”
Those wanting to donate camping equipment, including sleeping bags and gently used warm clothes, can drop items off at Carmichael Outreach Centre, situated at 1925 Osler Street.