The Town of La Ronge is scrambling to find options for an emergency homeless shelter after a local agency said it will no longer be providing the service.
In a letter to council earlier this month, the Kikinahk Friendship Centre says it will not be offering an overnight homeless shelter this winter due to insufficient funding.
The shelter service had been intermittently offered by Kikinahk’s Scattered Site Outreach program in the past.
La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak said now is the time to find a solution to the dilemma before the colder weather sets in.
“Now more than ever, it’s important to us to figure out a solution,” he said. “That of course usually doesn’t come until October/November when it starts getting cold again and people realizing there are people sleeping outside in the cold and possibly freezing to death. This is something that I wake up every single day with on my mind going, ‘okay, how do we do this?’”
So far, the provincial government does not appear open to funding a homeless shelter in the community.
Ratushniak and Air Ronge Mayor Julie Baschuk met with Social Services Minister Lori Carr and Justice Minister Gord Wyant this spring to explore funding options.
However, a recent letter from the ministers bluntly says the government has no interest in funding such a shelter.
While Ratushniak said he is certainly disappointed in the provincial government’s response, NDP Social Services Critic Meara Conway went even further stating the answer makes no sense as the government has funded homeless shelters in the past.
“That’s absolutely false,” she said. “There’s certainly precedent for jurisdictions to access funding for emergency shelters. We’ve seen some of that money appear during COVID, there are other examples where that’s been the case. Certainly, this would be within provincial jurisdiction.”
Ratushniak said the town estimates it would cost about $600,000 per year to operate a local homeless shelter.
He said there is a private donor who is interested in donating more than $1 million to capital for the project but ongoing operational funding would still be required to make it work.