With the ongoing pandemic and the overdose and homelessness crisis affecting the city, we must cast our vote for the next mayor of Saskatoon with compassion in mind.
There have been numerous debates over the Lighthouse during this civic election cycle, including proposals to relocate the emergency shelter center because of concerns that it may be making downtown unsafe. However, this is not a simple issue and relocating the Lighthouse will not solve the city’s ongoing homelessness problem.
According to the Canadian Observatory of Homelessness, there were 475 homeless people in Saskatoon in 2018. The last recorded number of beds available in the city was 179 in 11 shelters. Clearly, there is a shortage in beds to support the homeless population.
The COH also says that housing solves homelessness. Despite the simplicity of this solution, the problem is complex and involves many intersecting issues, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing.
The Lighthouse serves as an emergency shelter. It is a place where people who can’t afford housing can stay until they are ready to move back into the wider Saskatoon community. There are five homes operated by the Lighthouse where folks can learn how to run a home, live with a roommate and integrate back into the community.
But downtown businesses are urging civic leaders to “save” the downtown, with the Lighthouse being penned as one of the issues threatening it. Business owners sent two letters to incumbent Mayor Charlie Clark and the councillors in May, expressing safety concerns in the downtown.
I understand that downtown communities and businesses might feel unsafe, and I agree that we need to make our city’s core more secure. However, I don’t believe that relocating the shelter is the solution, and I have three reasons why.
One, the Lighthouse is doing what it can to support homeless people, but it can’t support everyone especially since homelessness is on the rise in Saskatoon. We clearly need more resources allocated to supporting the homeless population.
Two, I understand the downtown businesses’ concern about safety, but relocating the Lighthouse just means moving the issues that the emergency shelter is addressing to another place. If it gets moved, what’s stopping businesses or surrounding communities in their new location to raise the same concerns? Also, moving it to a less central location adds to issues of access for populations that need the Lighthouse’s services.
Three, I don’t think the message should be to “save” downtown, but to save homeless people instead.
It disheartens me that this is even a debate. I think that relocating some of its services to better serve the target populations may be a good idea, but the whole place? I question that idea.
Instead of investing money to relocate the Lighthouse, I believe the city must invest money to provide more housing options to homeless people. I believe that the focus should not be on downtown businesses but on how we can tackle homelessness in the city.
After all, if we tackle homelessness in our city, wouldn’t downtown businesses feel safer? If housing can reduce the rate of homelessness, then the city can control the amount of people on the streets. This can perhaps rejuvenate the downtown’s image.
As we vote for our next mayor, let’s practice kindness and think of our less fortunate neighbours. Let’s work together and not displace our homeless population further — with a bit of kindness, everyone can perhaps prosper.
J.C. Balicanta Narag | Editor-in-Chief
Photo: Nicholas Saretzky