Go to the City of Saskatoon’s “Quick Facts” page online and what do you see? Pictures of the city skyline, though not in winter. You also see people walking by our beautiful riverfront, once again, not during winter. To an outside observer, Saskatoon would seem pretty awesome. And yes, we have a total of 2,381 hours of sunshine a year, the Saskatoon Exhibition, Shakespeare on the Saskatchewan and our famed uranium and potash industries.
But Saskatoon also has some of the highest HIV and STI rates in Canada, not to mention the devastatingly high number of people who get murdered in this city. I wonder why none of these stats are listed on the “Quick Facts” page of Saskatoon’s website? Maybe because they’re not things to be proud of.
In 2009, Saskatoon was named the most dangerous city in Canada, with our overall crime rate being 163 per cent above the national average. In 2010, we slipped quite a bit but still remained in the top five most dangerous cities.
Saskatoon was also in the top 10 for robbery and auto thefts. And as of 2004, one in four children in Saskatoon live in poverty.
Take a walk by Midtown Plaza and you’ll see many of our homeless citizens panhandling — oh wait a minute, no you won’t. That’s because Midtown Plaza put up a sign saying you’re not allowed to beg for money near the main entrance doors. So, let’s just move the problem. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
The incidence of STIs in Saskatoon has also reached epidemic proportions. A quarter of Canada’s HIV-infected babies come from Saskatchewan and in 2008, there were 94 new HIV cases inside the city — up from 16 cases five years prior. This spike in new HIV cases over the years may be linked partly to drug users injecting themselves with contaminated needles.
It’s deeply troubling that many of our citizens deal with a combination of these serious social problems — making it even harder for them to become productive, self sufficient members of this town. In a 2009 study that followed 1,000 troubled residents (600 needle drug users and 400 sex trade workers), 33 per cent considered themselves to be homeless, 90.3 per cent were unemployed and 75 per cent of them had less than a high school education.
It’s evident that many of Saskatoon’s major social problems are causally linked to one another. Not finishing high school leads to unemployment. Once unemployed, many people will end up on the streets, where they have nothing better to do but shoot themselves up with drugs, or try earning some spare cash by prostituting their bodies.
When I first moved here two years ago, I thought this city was the cutest little town on the prairies. The lush greenery, the river that cuts the city in half, the exhibitions, festivals and the Roughriders. The city has an odd personality, but a personality nonetheless. I don’t hate Saskatoon; I just know it can do a hell of a lot better and actually earn recognition for something other than its high rates of crime and sexually transmitted infections.
Saskatoon is trying to become a big city. Thousands of people flock to our city every year, enticed by our booming economy. We are making changes to become a large center, but who will want to live in a large centre plagued with such horrible issues? It’s high time Saskatoon develop better education and social programming to reverse these terrible trends. The fact is, if we want to make Saskatoon “shine” we must first began by cleaning up the darker side of this town.
Photo: Deadly Sirius/Flickr