Annual homeless memorial honours lives lost to bad policies

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Housing is a right Nicola Fioravanti via Flickr

Homelessness is a policy decision

In the cold winter months of Saskatchewan, it is easy to take for granted the luxury that is central heating and staying warm and comfortable inside your home as nature rages around you. Unfortunately, it is a luxury that is not affordable to everyone. The issue of homelessness continues to be a problem within the city of Regina and has been exacerbated by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and by issues surrounding income assistance programs.

The city was reminded of this first-hand last October when Camp Hope began in Pepsi Park. Camp Hope started because an increased number of people were being driven to homelessness due to a change in the Saskatchewan income assistance program. It served as a home for many people until it was taken down on November 15, and although the camp was dismantled, many people remain without shelter in Saskatchewan’s brutal winter.

In a recently conducted count, an estimated 488 people were identified as homeless in Regina, which is an increase from 286 in 2018. Flow Community Projects conducted the count in partnership with Namerind Housing Corporation as Regina’s Community Entity. This count was conducted in the fall, and a full report is due to be released in early February. Exact or not, the numbers clearly indicate that homelessness remains an issue.

Once again, the Regina Homeless Memorial, a group of volunteers, in conjunction with Street Culture Project and Phoenix society, is hosting their sixth annual candlelight vigil in honour of those who have lost their lives to homelessness in the city. It will be the second time they have hosted online. The event is being hosted on February 8 from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. It can be accessed via a Facebook live stream on the Regina Homeless Memorial Facebook page. To get more information on the event and homelessness in the city, the Carillon spoke with Ashley Blythe, a supervisor at the Phoenix Homes program, and one of the organizers for the event.

What can you tell me about the memorial and what you guys want people to take away from it?

This will be the sixth year of our homeless memorial. We put it on every year because we have lost many people over the years to homelessness. We just want to have a memorial to spread awareness that this is still happening in our city, as well as to honour those whose lives have been lost, but also the awareness piece is a big part. Making sure people know that it’s still a big issue here, and that we have a lot of work to do and letting people know that people can reach out if they want to help out with things.

Is this the first year the vigil is being hosted online, and how has that affected planning?

We had to do it online last year. With COVID, it’s just been really tricky for us. Normally we do it outside every year, but this time it will be inside the library. Mugs media has actually teamed up with us to do the pre-recording parts because last year was a little tricky and we’re still learning the technology, but online is not our preferred method.

What are some of the leading causes of homelessness that you see in the city?

It really varies. Anybody can experience homelessness, really lots of people are one paycheque away from, you know, experiencing homelessness. The lack of affordability of housing is a really big issue here. The new social services programs, we’re really struggling with the new SIS program, and people not having enough money to cover some of their rent. It has been a big issue. Domestic violence happens, a death in the family, or fire. All those things are happening daily in Regina. So yeah, it’s a mixture of lots of different things.

Beyond attending the memorial, what would you suggest to people who want to help out or get involved with helping end homelessness in the city?

 They could come to either the Phoenix Residential Society or Street Culture. We also take donations to buy warm clothing or other necessities for people experiencing homelessness. We ask not for clothing donations, because we don’t really have the space to hold it, and buy items as we see fit when people need, and people experiencing homelessness deserve new things anyways.

If you or someone you know has lost someone due to homelessness and wish to honour them in a safe space, the Regina Homeless Memorial is encouraging people to send the names of those you want to honour to them via one of their social media channels. The names will be attached to lights as part of the vigil to remember those who passed due to these harsh circumstances.

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