A Saskatoon tribal chief says a recently opened Wellness Centre is painting a dark picture for the city’s homeless population and the trials they have to face.

The Saskatoon Tribal Council opened their temporary Wellness Centre on December 15 to house and feed homeless people during the winter months.

STC Chief Mark Arcand says since they opened around 4 weeks ago, the centre has been at or over-capacity every single day.

According to the numbers from the STC, the centre has completed nearly 300 intakes with 7 people having stayed at the shelter since the day it opened.

Arcand says he had a “gut feeling” the intake numbers would be this high.

“295 in 28 days is pretty severe in our area for a temporary centre,” said Arcand. “There is a bigger need out here because of mental health and addictions, covid hasn’t helped anything, CERB payments… all those things that are really negative to what’s happening in our city.”

The tribal chief says the Wellness Centre has dealt with 14 overdoses; ten of those occurring inside the building and four just outside. Arcand says the centre hasn’t seen an overdose in the past two weeks and all of those who experienced an overdose were treated and survived.

Arcand says the mental health and addiction struggles faced by the “relatives” (which the Wellness Centre prefers to identify their patrons as) is the most concerning struggle.

“This is a tough job,” said Arcand. “For anyone in the community thinking this is a nice place to deal with this, they are wrong. This place is hard because we are dealing with the hardest of the hardest.”

Cultural aspects to the centre

Despite the hard-working conditions staff member Lanny Mcdonald says some of the relatives have had high praise for the Wellness Centre with one of them telling him it was the best shelter he has ever stayed at.

Mcdonald, who has worked at shelters for around 7 years, believes the cultural aspect of the Wellness Centre is one area that helps differentiate this centre from other shelters he has worked at in the past.

“It’s about identity,” said Mcdonald. “It helps them feel a part of a home and we can create a home environment here through culture.”

The Wellness Centre has a cultural room off the entrance where Mcdonald says relatives often partake in smudges and drumming.

The STC says the majority of the relatives are Indigenous, but non-Indigenous people have stayed as well.

Funding in place and other options are being explored

Tribal Chief Arcand says the community has stepped up in a big way to help funding for the Wellness Centre. He says they have received funding from all levels of government, some big donations from the United Way of Saskatoon ($65,000) and the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan ($25,000), plus many more donors.

Arcand says the funding is now in place to ensure the doors of the centre will stay open throughout the winter.

In the meantime, the STC is exploring options for an additional 20 beds at another location in the city.

All the while, Chief Arcand says the STC continues to explore the possibility of a permanent Wellness Centre in the future.

(PHOTO: STC Chief Mark Arcand speaking with reporters outside the STC Wellness Centre at a media event in December.  Photo by Joel Willick)