Struggles with homelessness, lack of access to affordable housing, and long wait-lists for mental health care – these are only a snapshot of the stories we heard through our community engagement survey.
Over the last month, we’ve asked people if they have faced barriers to succeed and what they believe should be done to ensure Regina is prosperous for everyone.
We launched this project because of Camp Hope. While homelessness has always existed in Regina, the camp put it front and centre.
Camp Hope also brought about some change. The city set up an indoor shelter and the provincial government reversed some changes to the SIS program.
While this may be a small win for people living these experiences, there’s still more to be done.
In part one of this project, we’re going to share what we heard from our survey and some of the ideas brought forward by community members. We had 118 responses. Here is what was said.
Barriers to success
We don’t have an exact percentage, but the majority of respondents expressed they have faced barriers of some sort in their life, while a few said they did not.
Experiences ranged greatly.
One person explained their family had been evicted after a parent applied for SIS. They are sleeping on a relative’s living room floor and don’t receive support.
Another person explained how even though they earned more than minimum wage, it was a struggle to make ends meet as rents continue to increase.
As well, there were stories of people waiting on long lists to receive mental health support for themselves or their children. Single parents described how expensive childcare was.
A few quotes from the survey:
“I've been homeless in this city. I've also been told that "there's nothing we can do for you" … There seems to be a complete disconnect.”
“As a young single mom, I couldn't find affordable childcare.”
“After leaving an abusive relationship with my then three very young children I had a difficult time receiving temporary income support.”
“I need specialized therapy that I cannot easily afford and have often had to choose between paying bills and affording essentials like medicine and food.”
While many responses described hardship, there were a few that said they haven’t faced barriers.
What could be done to make Regina more prosperous?
We heard multiple ideas to address this, including help for mental health and addictions, affordable housing, free school lunches, removing SIS, more training programs, reconnection to culture, a living wage, and stopping the policing of homelessness and addictions.
“More training programs to help people find work, more mental health facilities to help people in crisis or with ongoing issues, more emergency shelters for people escaping violence or abuse, even heated bus shelters or retired buses converted into warming stations for people who need to get out of the cold.”
“It will be important to keep the community spirit alive in the solution to Camp Marjorie, it would be devastating to see the momentum and relationships displaced because of our tendency to fall back on existing systems.”
“For the powers that be to finally realize all people are deserving of equal rights and access to care needed in all aspects.”
“So much, but I think it has to start with recognizing that income - social assistance or wages - have to somehow correspond to the cost of living.”
How Camp Hope changed perceptions
While the majority of respondents (64 per cent) said they were very aware of homelessness in Regina before Camp Hope, many noted it had changed their perspective.
People mentioned they were surprised to learn the scope of the issue, that they felt optimistic there would be some change this time, and believed it brought more awareness.
Here are some of the responses:
“I’m just glad it’s finally getting attention, because for once in my life I don’t feel silenced by the government.”
“It is much more visible when you see everyone in one place rather than the invisible homeless. It’s a big wake up call for sure.”
“My perspective of homelessness has remained the same, though I think Camp Marjorie has opened many people's eyes.”
“Seeing the creation of Camp Marjorie is the first time I've felt optimistic that something may be forced to change for the better. We are truly more powerful as a collective.”
“This definitely opened my eyes to noticing the immense lack of compassion and understanding that exists in our society.”
We asked, What should governments and people do?
Many people said governments should focus on funding, particularly towards grassroots organizations that are doing direct work.
There was also an idea that they should incorporate case workers, mental health, elders and other support workers to create a two-tiered policing system.
This also included policy changes to keep families together and support training programs.
Some of those responses:
“Improving the Social Assistance program would help, raising minimum wage or capping rent costs, having emergency hotel vouchers for people escaping homelessness, having more community fridges, or a "judgement free" food bank.”
“Properly fund addictions, housing and mental health services.”
“The framework for active partnerships to wrap-around these neighbours is there and we just need to demand that it occurs. We also need to demand some jurisdiction be transferred to the First Nations and Metis because clearly the province doesn't care enough to do anything for Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness.”
“Eliminate barriers to housing. Housing first - don’t make people need to be sober or put other restrictions on accessing housing.”
"They should offer free mental health/addiction services, make housing affordable, and start to work out a higher minimum wage."
"Has to start with a non partisan acknowledgement that the system is the problem."
"Start a basic income program."
"Pass a law that social assistance is linked to the current poverty lines so that the support is not less than 5% below the current poverty line, adjusted annually."
Respondents also said people should do more if they are able, including donating, volunteering, advocating to their MLA, bringing awareness, and voting.
Some of those responses:
"Whatever they can do but volunteering is big."
"Serving, giving, loving should be our motto as citizens."
"Volunteer, educate and understand."
"I think we all need to recognize that people experiencing homelessness are our neighbours. We cannot support policies and decisions that exclude members of our communities."
"Contacting the proper people in positions to help end this."
"Look homeless people in the eyes. Acknowledge them as humans."
In every survey and interview, I always ask if there’s anything important a person would like to add. Here’s what some people said:
"I know too many people who are 1 or 2 missed paychecks away from ending up at that camp, myself included."
"This situation is desperate. I've spent more than I could afford buying supplies, I've gone through my cupboards/fridge/freezer and cooked what I could find. And the people are still there and I have no more I can give and it weighs down my heart."
"The research has been done over and over and over again. These surveys are tokenism actions. You know what needs to get done! So do it!"
"We used to feel pride in our province. Not anymore."
Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey. I’m particularly thankful to Camp Hope who shared this survey so I could get more input. It was an eye-opening experience for me to have so much participation. As a journalist, having trust is so important and I’m grateful some of you indicated you’re willing to share your stories.
As for next steps, expect a story sometime in a week or so that touches on someone's personal experience. I’m also still working on setting up a virtual discussion.