Social services minister says Regina council’s decision not to buy property for shelter a ‘setback’

Saskatchewan’s minister of social services describes Regina city council’s decision to not purchase property for a permanent emergency shelter as a “setback” in addressing homelessness in the city. Gene Makowsky also admitted that although the province is willing to provide funding to assist cities in creating shelters, the commitment is not limitless. 

Makowsky said he is confident in the City of Regina as a partner but admits it’s not “an easy task” to find the perfect location. “We want to help vulnerable people here in our province, of course,” Makowsky said on Thursday. “I guess it’s a bit of a setback.”  At its meeting on June 12, council was presented with a $7.5-million deal to purchase two properties — 1420 Albert St. and 1440 Albert St. — with the intention of creating a 55-bed permanent emergency shelter in the north central neighbourhood. 

It would have served as a replacement for the temporary emergency shelter operating at The Nest Health Centre, which is set to close next summer. The federal and provincial governments were going to cover 80 per cent of the deal, with each of them chipping in $3 million, plus $1.5 million from the city. Ottawa’s one-time housing and transit funding grant of $3 million is still available, but there’s no guarantee the province will re-up its offer. 

On Thursday, Makowsky said every proposal for shelter funding is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. “We of course don’t have endless amounts of money. But no, just to say that money is off the table is not the case,” he said. At the meeting earlier this month, city manager Niki Anderson warned council that the opportunity in front of them was going to be “as good as it is going to get.”

She warned that if the purchase was rejected, it would make it all but guaranteed that a shelter would not be up and running to replace the one at The Nest, effectively putting 55 people out onto the streets. After more than seven hours of debate, councillors voted 6 to 5 to reject the deal and directed city staff to keep looking for another location.

Councillors appeared to be swayed by delegates concerned about the location not being appropriate because a shelter would crater neighbouring property values and could compromise the safety of nearby residents. 

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