As cold weather hits Saskatoon and other areas of the province the Saskatoon Tribal Council is hoping to open a winter shelter in the city as soon as possible.

STC Tribal Chief Mark Arcand says they have identified a building in the city’s downtown core for what he says will be a wellness centre with 50 beds. The building is a 9,200 square foot space at 145 First Avenue North. The Tribal chief says the STC explored many options before deciding on the downtown building.

“Some people, unfortunately, will say why downtown…we had no other choice,” said Arcand. “It’s not to disrupt the community, it’s not to disrupt the downtown, it’s to help people… to try and save lives.”

Arcand spoke with reporters outside the proposed building on Thursday morning with temperatures hovering around -7 with the wind chill.

“As of today, we are all standing out here, we are bundled up, and we are all cold. Imagine last night when we were sitting in our homes with the warm heat…(some) people don’t have that,” Arcand told reporters. “The reason Saskatoon Tribal Council is stepping up is because we don’t want to promote a tent city… that is not safe for the community.”

The lease for the proposed wellness centre would run until March and could run into April depending on the weather.

According to Arcand, the centre will be staffed 24/7, have mental health and addictions services on-site, provide three meals a day, and will be open to everyone.

“We are doing our best, it may not be perfect, it may upset people, but that’s not the intention,” said the Tribal Chief. “The intention is we have to come together and solve the crisis of homelessness in our community.”

Chief Arcand says he is open to dialogue with anyone who may have concerns with the proposed wellness centre.

Funding and council approval are still hurdles to overcome

The Tribal Chief says the STC currently has enough internal revenue to fund the centre for around 30-60 days. He says they have put in requests for funding from Indigenous Services Canada for the shelter to remain open throughout the winter.

The last hurdle for the wellness centre to officially open is for City Council approval. The city needs to rezone the building first to allow it to become a shelter. This is a process that will require the proposal to go to a committee meeting on December 8 before finally being decided by the council on December 20.

For STC Chief Arcand, this is too long of a wait.

“I’m hoping the mayor and council can have an emergency meeting to push this up and get approval because the weather is changing and it is getting cold,” he said.

Arcand believes the city will approve the shelter on the 20th and he also believes they will explore the possibility of an emergency meeting. If the decision on approval doesn’t get pushed up, Arcand says he will “respect the process.”

Several other community organizations have partnered with the STC in the shelter. They include the Saskatoon Fire Dept, Saskatoon Police Service, Sanctum Care Group, Saskatchewan Health Authority, and the STC’s own Sawêyihtotân Outreach Team.

While this shelter would be temporary for this winter alone, the STC says they are also exploring options for a permanent wellness centre in the future.

(PHOTO: STC Chief Mark Arcand speaks with reporters outside a proposed winter shelter in downtown Saskatoon.  Photo by Joel Willick)