On a snowy first week of October, a North Battleford homeless shelter opened its doors to everyone – funded or not.
Only those financially supported by Social Services are supposed to be allowed access to the Lighthouse facilities. With temperatures dropping to below freezing, staff decided to abandon protocol and open doors to anyone in need of shelter.
Caitlin Glencross is the manager of the Lighthouse and said it’s extremely difficult to turn people away when they’re staring you in the face.
“Somebody has to look after these people, and because of the weather we are going to let people in,” Glencross said. “This might come back to bite us in the bum, but we can’t have people sleeping outside.”
Glencross said during the heaviest snow fall, numerous people were turned away and had to sleep outside of the shelter. She added of the 15 people who stayed, only three met the criteria to be funded by Social Services.
According to Glencross, the criteria of who can be funded for stays at the Lighthouse keep getting narrower. Intoxicated people were allowed when the shelter opened two years ago, but now Social Services have told staff to call the RCMP to deal with them.
Glencross said the province released an audit on the North Battleford and Saskatoon Lighthouses last week. She was hoping for news it would change the structure of their funding.
“We were kind of confused by the results,” Glencross said. “In the report, they used as justification to not fund us, it said for every $10 the Lighthouse spent, it saved the province $21. It has put us in the position where the majority of individuals are not being funded even though we have people knocking on our door every night needing to use the facilities.”
According to Glencross, sending intoxicated people to the RCMP to stay in the “drunk tank” costs more than a shelter where they can be looked after and fed.
Many people have been forced to sleep outside due to lack of funding; some in make shift tents and others with no shelter at all. Laurette Knight was turned away two nights ago and talked about how important the Lighthouse is to the community.
“I depend on this place. Everyone here depends on this place, this is the only home we have,” Knight said. “Nobody else cares about us but the Lighthouse does. We’re hoping it will open 24-7 so we can be here instead of out in the cold freezing. There are too many people who die out there. I don`t want to see anyone else die. ”
Glencross said as a non-profit organization it is near impossible to function without funding coming in. Saskatchewan is the only province funding homeless shelters on a per diem system. Glencross said every other province gets a core amount of funding and creates their budget accordingly.
“It’s an amount that Social Services determine, not us,” Glencross said adding a per diem system means a certain amount per person, per day. “They say a shelter stay is work ‘X’ amount of dollars, which includes shower, shelter and food. When we call Social Services to try to fund someone, they are the ones who decide if they will pay the per diem. That’s the system.”
Greg Higgins is battlefordsNOW's city municipal affairs and health reporter. He can be reached at [email protected] or tweet him @realgreghiggins.
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