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Regina Municipal Election 2020: Ending homelessness

In preparation for Regina’s 2020 municipal election, the Sask Dispatch asked progressive community members, activists, and experts to pick one pressing issue facing the city, and write about how to address it. Joey Reynolds and Florence Stratton, two long-time community activists, weigh in on what can be done about Regina’s homelessness problem.

How long have you lived in Regina and what ward do you live in?

Joey: I’ve lived in Regina since 2001. I currently live in Ward 6.

Florence: I was born and raised in Regina. I moved away for about 30 years and returned in 1994, and currently live in Ward 3.

What is your occupation?

Joey: Disability income support and community activist.

Florence: Community activist.

How have the mayor and council approached the issue of homelessness over the past four years? What have they promised to do about this issue if they’re re-elected?

In the 2016 municipal election, Mayor Michael Fougere ran on a platform of ending homelessness. In his words, “We need to provide more housing and we need to end homelessness. Those are the major things I want to see happening.”

Fougere’s preferred solution to Regina’s homelessness crisis is Housing First, a program that finds permanent housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness and provides support if needed. 

In 2017, in an apparent bid to keep his election promise, Fougere brought a motion before city council: the Regina Plan to End Homelessness. The plan, called “Everyone is Home: A Five-Year Plan to End Chronic and Episodic Homelessness in Regina,” was finally released in 2019 and it calls for an investment of $63 million over five years in a Housing First program, with $25 million coming from the federal government and $38 million from the province.

A Housing First program will not end homelessness in Regina, as it is aimed at a narrow category of people: those who are chronically homeless.

There are a number of problems with the plan: 

A Housing First program will not end homelessness in Regina, as it is aimed at a narrow category of people: those who are chronically homeless. It would, however, be a start.  

The City of Regina paid out-of-province consultants $120,000 for the plan. 

There has already been an overabundance of such plans, including the 2013 Regina Comprehensive Housing Strategy, which cost taxpayers $100,000 to pay out-of-province consultants. That plan is currently gathering dust on a shelf. 

The City of Regina is not obligated to provide any funding for the plan, but only to facilitate the process. 

Finally, and most fatally, the provincial and federal contributions are not likely to be forthcoming. 

While the City of Regina cannot, on its own, end homelessness in Regina – that will require federal and provincial financial support – it can make an annual contribution to the funding of the plan over its five-year time span.

When the plan finally came before city council in April 2020, Ward 3 Councillor Andrew Stevens and Ward 9 Councillor Jason Mancinelli moved an amendment to the motion: that the city “develop a housing stream of $2 million dollars” to help fund the plan. The motion was defeated by a vote of eight to three. Along with Councillors Stevens and Mancinelli, Ward 4 Councillor Lori Bresciani voted in favour of the amended motion. Mayor Fougere was among those who voted against it. 

Actual action to end homelessness was postponed once again. 

Fougere has always insisted that no city money be put into any plan to end homelessness, as homelessness is a provincial and federal responsibility and it would signal a willingness for the responsibility to be downloaded onto the city. 

Why, then, is Fougere so willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce plans to end homelessness in Regina – money that would have been better spent housing people who are homeless? It would seem that plans have become ends in themselves. 

While the City of Regina cannot, on its own, end homelessness in Regina – that will require federal and provincial financial support – it can make an annual contribution to the funding of the plan over its five-year time span. In so doing, the city would not only provide housing for some people who are currently homeless, but also a model for the other levels of government to follow. 

[Fougere] claims that “the Plan to End Homelessness is a critical success.” Since not a single person has yet been housed under the plan, “utter failure” would seem to be a more apt descriptor.  

What would be a reasonable financial contribution from the city? Here are three suggestions:

$5 million – this is the amount of city tax dollars going annually to pay for Mosaic Stadium, which now sits empty.

$3.6 million – this is the increase in the 2020 Regina Police Service budget over the 2019 budget.

$2 million – this is the amount designated in the Stevens-Mancinelli amendment that was voted down in April 2020.

In his bid for reelection in the 2020 municipal election, Fougere has once again made ending homelessness “a priority.” He also claims that “the Plan to End Homelessness is a critical success.” Since not a single person has yet been housed under the plan, “utter failure” would seem to be a more apt descriptor.  

“On a per-capita basis,” the plan states, “the number of homeless in the city is larger than the average for most Canadian cities.”

According to the plan, 2,200 people were homeless in Regina in 2018, a number that will have only increased in the intervening two years. “On a per-capita basis,” the plan states, “the number of homeless in the city is larger than the average for most Canadian cities.” The plan also revealed that “almost 80 per cent of the homeless were Indigenous and more than 50 per cent women, almost 20 per cent with dependent children.”

Fougere is currently running for re-election as mayor. Of the eight other candidates for mayor in the 2020 municipal election, only Jim Elliott has included ending homelessness as part of his platform. 

What kinds of political, social, and economic factors do you think play into their response to the homelessness crisis?

Class privilege, white privilege, racism, sexism, colonialism. We need to be asking how we can challenge these kinds of social power. 

How does attention or lack of attention to homelessness impact the city as a whole? Who is impacted the most?

Homelessness has a direct and devastating impact on the health of homeless people. Stress, anxiety, and depression are pervasive effects. No wonder! Imagine the daily, even hourly trials people who are homeless face: Where am I going to sleep tonight? Where can I find some food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Where can I find a public washroom? 

Homelessness has a direct and devastating impact on the health of homeless people. Stress, anxiety, and depression are pervasive effects. No wonder! Imagine the daily, even hourly trials people who are homeless face: Where am I going to sleep tonight? Where can I find some food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Where can I find a public washroom? 

Homelessness also takes a terrible physical toll. The life expectancy of a person who is homeless in Canada is much shorter than the average life expectancy in Canada. According to some estimates it’s about 50 per cent shorter. 

Now, COVID has made a very difficult life that much harder. So many of the places that people who are homeless depend upon for food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and a bathroom have been closed or are operating at reduced service and/or hours, including soup kitchens, service providers, libraries, and shopping malls.   

Regina’s homelessness crisis also impacts those of us lucky enough to have a home to go to, a place where we can eat and sleep and take a shower and change and wash our clothes – all those things we take for granted as part of normal daily life.  

If we do nothing about Regina’s homelessness crisis, we are part of the problem, complicit in our city’s inaction on the crisis. In other words, homelessness is not only an economic and political matter. It's also an ethical issue. What kind of people are we? 

If we do nothing about Regina’s homelessness crisis, we are part of the problem, complicit in our city’s inaction on the crisis. In other words, homelessness is not only an economic and political matter. It's also an ethical issue. What kind of people are we? 

Safe, secure, and decent housing is a human right, protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada signed in 1948: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being […] including food, clothing, [and] housing.”

Are there cities that have had success addressing homelessness?

Medicine Hat in Alberta is frequently held up as “the first city in Canada to officially end homelessness.” In 2009, Medicine Hat wrote up a plan to end homelessness, based on the Housing First model. In 2015, it declared it had succeeded in ending chronic homelessness. So why can’t Regina do it?

Medicine Hat is about a quarter the size of Regina, making a Housing First program easier to implement. More notably, the Medicine Hat plan received significant funding from the provincial government of Alberta. It also received federal funding. 

The Government of Saskatchewan has given no indication that it will contribute to the Regina Plan. Currently, Ottawa provides funding to house 34 people under Housing First in Regina.  

Safe, secure, and decent housing is a human right, protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada signed in 1948.

What can the city do to make ending homelessness a priority? What would success look like?

Here’s what the city can do: 

The city can make an annual contribution to the funding of the plan over its five-year time span. We suggest $5 million annually. There is always money for sports facilities and events. Let’s demonstrate at least the same level of care and concern for people who are homeless.  

City officials can lobby the provincial and federal governments to fund the city’s “Plan to End Homelessness.”

If we are successful, Regina would have far fewer homeless people.  

We have been mainly standing by while the suffering and misery of homelessness is evident all around us. It is time to stand up!

What can residents do to set the agenda on this issue? 

We have been mainly standing by while the suffering and misery of homelessness is evident all around us. It is time to stand up!

We must make ending homelessness in Regina an election issue with teeth. Let all candidates know that ending homelessness in Regina is a priority for you. Also let them know what Regina city council can do to actually help end homelessness in Regina. No more plans. We want action!

We can write letters to the editor calling for real action from the city to end homelessness in Regina. We can also phone into radio shows on the municipal election.

After the municipal election, we must hold the mayor and councillors accountable. We can pester them with phone calls and emails. We can make presentations at council meetings. We can hold rallies and protests at City Hall. If all else fails, we can engage in civil disobedience. 

We can lobby the provincial and federal governments to provide financial support for the Regina Plan to End Homelessness. 

We can make ending homelessness in Regina an issue in the provincial election. 

After the municipal election, we must hold the mayor and councillors accountable. We can pester them with phone calls and emails. We can make presentations at council meetings. We can hold rallies and protests at City Hall. If all else fails, we can engage in civil disobedience. 

Are there particular candidates for mayor or council who you think would do well at addressing this topic?

Current Councillors Stevens, Mancinelli, and Bresciani look the most likely to take concrete action toward ending homelessness in Regina, as they supported the motion calling for the development of a housing stream of $2 million.  

That said, it is up to the citizens of Regina to ensure that whoever is elected makes ending homelessness a real priority and takes real action.

Joey. H. Reynolds is a community activist with grassroots groups in Regina, Treaty 4 territory. He was born and raised in Treaty 5 northern Manitoba, as a member of the Swampy Cree Tribal Council. He's lived in Regina since 2001.

Florence Stratton is a community activist who lives with gratitude to and in solidarity with the Original Peoples of Treaty 4 — Nehiyawak, Anisinapek, Dakota, Lakota, Nakoda — as well as with the Métis Nation whose homeland it is.

Tags:   activism elections government homelessness regina

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