Square One Community Inc., in partnership with Providence Place, held an informal conversation on Homelessness on Wednesday, January 24th at Providence Place, which was open to the public.
Square One Community Inc. board member Mary Lee Booth provided an overview of what the organization looks to do. The group currently consists of six board members.
“The last two years, Square One Community has been advocating, both with our municipal government, and our provincial government. Advocating for folks who are housing insecure. What that means is, we collaborate - we partner - with individuals, organizations and government. We are community champions, to coordinate, not duplicate,” said Booth.
One of the group’s initiatives is to send out updated information sheets with warming spaces and daily meal offerings available in downtown Moose Jaw.
Booth provided some statistics that came out of their Point in Time count conducted in August 2023, which interviewed 26 unhoused people in Moose Jaw. She said that 86 per cent stated they would like to have permanent housing, 69 per cent self-identified as having a mental health issue, and 58 per cent identified as having a substance use disorder.
She pointed to a diversity of factors that contribute to housing insecurity, including a lack of affordable housing supply, mental and physical health issues, underemployment issues, violence and abuse.
Booth spoke about barriers that unhoused individuals experience when it comes to finding employment. “If you don’t have a permanent address, that alone really gets in the way.”
She added that a lack of access to transportation, a phone, and even ID can impact a person’s ability to find a job.
Booth raised the importance of transitional housing options for people following addictions treatment. “When they’re done treatment, then they would spend a period of time in transitional housing to get supports to be able to sustain the gains that they made in treatment.”
Booth then introduced a community member with lived experience of being unhoused and struggling with addictions. “I haven’t walked the walk, and I don’t understand until I have the opportunity to listen, and then I have a better feeling for what their story is.”
A man shared his story with being unhoused and struggling with addictions. We are not publishing his name to protect his identity.
He said that at the beginning he was able to stay with friends but eventually struggled with finding places to stay as his addiction progressed. “People could tell what I was getting myself into, and people could tell the paths I was heading down. They didn’t want me around anymore, or their parents didn’t want me around them anymore.”
He experienced a catch-22 when it came to trying to get stable housing. “I never had a job before I started using; I didn’t know how to look for housing. I tried to get on income assistance, but in order to get on income assistance, I had to have an address. In order to have an address, I had to get on income assistance – how am I supposed to do that?”
“I had to turn to other options to support myself. Options that I didn’t want to turn to, but it felt like the only option for me at that time with the skills that I had.”
While he tried to stop using drugs, he wasn’t able to do it alone. He tried calling to get himself into detox but said that having to make a daily call to keep himself moving up the list was a barrier. “I’m ready to stop one day, and then I’m going to have to call in for 15, 16, 20 days – I can’t keep making that phone call over and over."
He attributed Drug Treatment Court with putting him on the course to recovery, after he said he was charged with non-violent crimes. “They saw that the reason I was committing my crimes, the reason I had my charges, was because I was doing them to support my addiction.”
“They taught me skills that I needed to be able to help myself.”
Narcotics Anonymous has also been helpful for him on his path. “With NA, that’s where I have people that understand where I’m coming from. I have people that know what I’m going through, because they’ve lived through it themselves.”
Finding work where he can help others with their addictions is something he would like to do someday.
He said something he wished people had done when they saw him on the street was to acknowledge him as a person. “I can’t remember how many times I’m walking down the street, and people crossed to the complete other side of the street because they didn’t want to walk by me.”
Constable Jay Sills discussed his work on the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which pairs up a police officer with a mental health professional.
The two Moose Jaw PACT teams work 12-hour shifts responding to calls related to acute mental health and addictions situations. “You get to know these people. You build relationships, you care about these people.”
Jody Oakes, manager of justice programming and branch services at the John Howard Society spoke about the organization, which has eight employees based in Moose Jaw. She said they work closely with other community organizations including the Moose Jaw and District Food Bank, Social Services, and PACT, and that they also run some of the drug treatment court programming out of their office.
“We are there to help people when they’re ready, and to help people go through this. It’s a journey – it doesn’t happen overnight,” said Oakes.
They also have the contract for Willow Lodge at 83 Ominica St W, which is a co-ed, 15-space facility offering overnight accommodation to people who are unhoused from now until March 31, 2024.
For more information on Square One Communities Inc., you can find their website here.
For more information on Willow Lodge, you can call them at 306-690-2785, or call Jody Oakes at 306-690-9384.