Recreation takes spotlight, homelessness looms over Regina
Fun over function
On November 20, Regina hosted its fourth Canadian Football League Grey Cup game. On that same night, as hundreds of people streamed out of Mosaic Stadium, a person stood holding a sign asking for money and food on the side of the train track. This person went generally unnoticed as the crowd crossed over Saskatchewan Drive and into the night.
Regina’s homelessness population continues to grow, and homelessness advocates continue to argue there are no long-term solutions to keeping people off the streets. Another concern remains that recreation facility development in Regina continues to take priority, ousting resources to aid homelessness. Alysia Johnson, an advocate with Rally Around Homelessness, spoke to 980 CJME: “Nobody is against recreation facilities. We just don’t think that this is the (right) time. We have bigger fish to fry.”
Five major recreational projects are set to take place already, undergoing consultation at the end of October. The catalyst committee set up four days of sessions for public feedback on recreation facilities. According to CBC, the total cost of the five recreation projects could hit around $490 million. On the first day of catalyst committee consultations, the committee received harsh criticism that social issues existing in Regina should be taken into consultation before committing to large, million-dollar complexes.
City Councillor and co-chair of the catalyst committee board Bob Hawkins spoke with 980 CJME explaining that these new facilities could have wrap around benefits. “These projects have a ripple effect that will help create neighbourhoods (and) create housing,” said Hawkins. “So I think there was an attempt to see that the social issues that were raised, and the recreational creation issues that were raised, are connected, and that’s something we are going to go away and think about hard.”
Since consultations took place, other community organizations and businesses have come forth expressing their concern about the building of recreational complexes. In a press release, District Brewing Company argued that affordable and stable housing should take priority over recreation in Regina.
“There are hundreds of people without stable housing in Regina right now. We cannot wait for councillors to ‘go away and think about hard’ how to deal with the crises our neighbours are facing tonight.”
District Brewing Company currently sits near the Regina downtown area where many of the recreational projects are set to be built. The company would benefit from recreation complexes and event centres in their area. However, they explain that rampant homelessness comes at the cost of peoples’ lives. Johnson previously told the Carillon that homelessness is worse than previous years.
“It is a little bit more hidden and harder to detect, but it is certainly not better. I would argue the only things that have made it – and I hate to use the term better – is the fact that so many people died,” said Johnson.
Johnson worked at Camp Hope, the tent city that occupied Pepsi Park in the Heritage area in the fall of 2021. One in five Camp Hope residents have died since last year. With snow on the ground, resources matter more than ever. Johnson said people are “dying needless deaths.”
“It’s so important because we have neighbours in our community that are losing fingers and toes, and limbs, and hands,” said Johnson. “They are freezing, they are cold, they are wet.”
CBC reports that there are currently around 700 Regina Housing Authority Units that sit vacant. However, the safety and reliability of these housing units are in question after one of these housing units exploded in North Central on November 13. According to CTV, their housing units with and without government affiliations report months without heat, and pest and rodent populations.
In the same values as Johnson, District Brewing Company argues the catalyst committee’s ideas and goals of new recreation facilities would benefit the community, but putting people into safe and warm housing is top priority.
Original RRI Taylor Field plans on the line
On day 3 of the catalyst committee public feedback sessions, a suggestion was made for Taylor Field, the previous location of the old Mosaic Stadium, to be the site for the new outdoor baseball and soccer facility. In the original 2011 Regina Revitalization Initiative (RRI) plan, Phase 3 originally designated Taylor Field to be a place to build 700 affordable and market-rate housing units. These housing units would be a great asset for the North Central community who needs better housing units. More housing units would have attracted commercial development to the area. For example, North Central does not currently have a grocery store. The nearest grocery store to the neighborhood is the Safeway in the Cathedral area, but depending on financial situations, this can be expensive compared to other grocery stores. The nearest affordable grocery stores are Crawford’s No Frills, located across Lewvan Drive in Rosemont neighbourhood, or FreshCo, which is situated in Regent Park. Since there is no fully funded public mode of transportation available many are left to bus, costing more money to get their groceries home.
While negotiations of the catalyst committee took place, the RRI Phase 3 planning mentions nothing of housing units, but instead mentioned “an exciting opportunity to rejuvenate one of Regina’s historic neighbourhoods with approximately 20 acres available for future development.” After catalyst committee negotiations concluded, the RRI page on the City of Regina website was updated with a revision explaining that affordable housing units were never the official plan of the RRI: “Council has not yet adopted a neighbourhood plan for the Taylor Field Neighbourhood. The Taylor Field Neighbourhood servicing and planning evaluation will begin in 2023 and is part of the Land Development Master Plan.”
Deputy Mayor Lori Bresciani told 980 CJME that the reason the affordable housing units were never built is because no developers came forward to develop the housing. “I had heard that there were whispers that the Taylor Field was going to be designated for some affordable housing. But there has been nothing that has moved that forward,” said Bresciani.
The only phase of the RRI that has been fulfilled was Phase 1, the building of the new Mosaic Stadium.