Rising evictions in Saskatchewan show provincial aid programs have a problem: critics

Rising evictions in Saskatchewan show provincial aid programs have a problem: critics

Like every day, Monica Dawn Ermine had spent the morning of December 5 picking up prescription medication for HIV and chronic back pain at a pharmacy in Saskatoon.

And that’s when she found out that she had been evicted from her apartment.

Now she walks the streets when it’s below zero and looks for a new place to stay. And she is not alone.

A woman in a parka looks at broken mailboxes in a unit.  Her back is turned to the camera.
Hermione says she never received her eviction notice because the mailboxes in her former building are broken and mail is often stolen. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

The Office of Residential Tenancies (ORT), which decides landlord-tenant hearings on evictions, said it received 3,298 applications from landlords seeking tenure between April 1 and November 30.

Almost 50 percent of these, 1,643, resulted in evictions.

During the same period, the Sheriff’s Office conducted 676 evictions, including Hermione’s evictions.

So far in December there have been more than 108 forced evictions in Saskatchewanaccording to the records of the Canadian Legal Information Institute (CLII).

A middle-aged man sits at a table behind which a sunset landscape is painted on the wall.
Before he was accepted into the SAID program, William Paddy was in the SIS program and says he was “broke all the time”. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Under the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program, Hermione receives $1,100 each month, but a third of that has gone towards her rent. With inflationary pressures and the rising cost of living, she said, “a few hundred dollars” doesn’t go far.

“Food costs have gone up, but the government’s financial distribution remains the same,” said Hermione, 44. “It doesn’t make sense,” she said.

“My hands and feet are cold from walking around all the time. Nobody should be homeless, period. I am being cornered and no one should be thrown into the freezing cold.”

A closer look at a broken door lock.
In the building where Ermine used to live, mailboxes have been forced open and units have broken door locks. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

She said she feels fortunate to be with SAID because the other non-disabled welfare program — the Saskatchewan Income Support Program, or (SIS) — “barely covers anything.”

“I suffer from addiction and anxiety disorders in addition to hepatitis C. I have many disabilities,” she said. “I want to kick my addiction and not do things like prostitution and petty theft for my drugs.”

“SIS was so much effort”

William Paddy, who is on SAID for spinal meningitis and is methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureussaid he was “homeless and been on and off for about 10 years. I live on the streets of Saskatoon.”

Prior to his recent incarceration, Paddy was also in the SIS program.

“SIS was so much trouble. I wasn’t getting any benefits, I was broke the whole time,” he said.

A middle-aged man sits at a table behind which a sunset landscape is painted on the wall.
Nicholas Blenkinsop, a senior attorney at CLASSIC, says housing insecurity and homelessness are not faceless in Saskatchewan: Indigenous peoples are hardest hit. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

According to Alexa Van Volkenburg, a Community Support Worker at Community Legal Assistance Services For Saskatoon Inner City (CLASSIC), “many welfare recipients couldn’t afford rents before inflation, but now they’re skyrocketing.”

People like Paddy often don’t have references, she says, adding to the obstacles in finding a place to live.

“I’m petrified from the winters. Two have already died before it was even the hardest,” said Van Volkenburg. “Housing is harm reduction. It’s a human right, but all systems prepare people for failure.”

Secretary of Social Affairs Gene Makowsky to CBC News a few weeks ago that Saskatchewan has some of the cheapest housing in Canada, and the increased housing benefits and $500 affordability checks help with that.

But Volkenburg disagrees.

“There aren’t many options for people,” she said, as the number of people without shelter in the community is increasing dramatically. “Many of these ‘affordable units’ are not secure, often infested with bugs with broken door locks.

“What is said in the ministry often does not happen at the front,” said Volkenburg. “I find it hard when ministry officials say there are housing options. Where is this secret list?”

Nicholas Blenkinsop, senior counsel at CLASSIC, says visible homelessness has increased in the city and while well intentioned, programs like SIS are fueling the problem.

“LOCATION [Office of Residential Tenancies] has transitioned almost exclusively to an online information exchange and telephone hearing process. These new systems have created barriers for people who don’t normally have access to technology,” he said.

“Despite very clear instructions from the court that the ORT must conduct a fuller inquiry into what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances, the ORT and hearing officials there continue to routinely fail to do so.”

In an email, an ORT spokesman told the office sees the average number of ownership applications returning to pre-pandemic levels.

“That [ORT] educates the public in person, through information clinics (available in person and virtually), and via email and phone,” the email read Saskatoon offices and staff available to the public.

SIS “a failed experiment”

Blenkinsop called SIS “a failed experiment” and said it was forcing more people into unlivable living conditions.

He said the number of people who have unsafe homes could easily be much higher than “the 3,298 landlord applications for ownership.”

He calls for subsidized and safe housing.

“More and more parishioners are struggling and suffering, especially in the last two years. Housing insecurity and homelessness in Saskatchewan are not faceless,” he said.

“We know from statistics that indigenous peoples are the most affected. It will be another continuation of the intergenerational trauma and ongoing problem of colonialism.”

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