Who’s exploiting social services again? 

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A photo of the Thriftlodge by Wyndham motel on 1009 Albert St., Regina.
Social services pays this place almost 200 dollars a night to house someone in crisis? Kim Kaufman

No wonder it costs so much to help those in need… 

Earlier this month, the Official Opposition released documents listing hotels that had received over $50,000 or more from the Ministry of Social Services during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Social Services covers the costs of hotels in select cases and during times of housing crisis when individuals would otherwise have nowhere to go.  

Among the hotels listed on documents released by the Saskatchewan New Democrat Party (NDP) were the Thriftlodge by Wyndham (Thriftlodge) and Sunrise Motel in Regina. The Thriftlodge and the Sunrise Motel are financially connected to Gary Grewal, an active MLA with the Saskatchewan Party, either by investment or ownership.  

Documents from the NDP show that the establishments received $384,178 from the Ministry of Social Services. This sum is broken down to $220,474 at the Sunrise Motel and $163,704 at the Thriftlodge. According to the NDP, the two establishments notably raised their prices on rooms when social services covered the bill to house clients in either location.  

Despite allegations, Social Services Minister Gene Makowsky has defended social services’ actions and the use of both establishments for the immediate support of individuals or families in emergency situations.  

According to Makowsky, “Since some hotels won’t accept people on income assistance because of past issues, the province’s options are limited.” 

The issue has been ongoing. In November of 2023, the NDP alleged that the Sunrise Motel increased prices for a woman staying there once it became known social services were paying for her room. Despite an online rate of $99 per night, the price increased to $162 per night. Even more concerning was the increase at the Thriftlodge. The hotel is listed as $90 per night, and the ministry paid an average of $185 per night. This is a steep increase at just over double the listed cost. The opposition claimed those rates were based on a one-night booking for February 13, 2024.  

Provincial data shows that hotel-related costs for social services have doubled by more than half since 2018; associated expenditures rose from $1.17 million to $3.08 million from 2018 to 2022. This is speculated to be for a number of reasons, including exacerbated circumstances post-pandemic in an increasingly worsening housing climate.  

In response to the controversy with hotel costs, the Ministry of Social Services has announced its commitment to changing how it handles hotel bookings for individuals and families supported by social assistance. In a letter dated February 8, 2024, to the NDP, the Ministry detailed a new formal process in which they will obtain quotes from three hotels and direct people to use the cheapest available option while maintaining safety.   

In the wake of this news, Saskatchewan Party MLA Gary Grewal has announced he will not run for re-election. “It has been an honour to serve the people of Regina Northeast for these past four years,” Grewel posted to social media on the matter. Grewal is among 10 other Saskatchewan Party MLAs who have announced they will not seek re-election in the upcoming election.  

The investigation into the practice of acquiring bookings by the ministry will continue as the office of Saskatchewan’s auditor has announced it will investigate the matter. The auditor report is currently scheduled to be released in December 2024, following the 2024 provincial election. As such, while the people of Saskatchewan prepare to head to the polls, this information will be unavailable.   

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