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Tribal chief vaunts housing program, asks Saskatoon for more funding

Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) Chief Mark Arcand told a Saskatoon city committee on Monday that Saweyihtotan, a “By Indigenous, for Indigenous” outreach program, has been a success in helping at-risk people, especially with securing housing and providing access to services.

Arcand asked the City to commit an additional $100,000 towards the STC goal of $700,000, which is needed to expand and run the outreach program another year.

The provincial government announced $350,000 towards the program on March 31.

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“When you talk about mental health and addictions, I see it as no different as any other disease, like diabetes,” he said.

“There’s treatment for it, you just got to put people in the right treatment to deal with those issues.”

He told the standing committee on finance that the program had nearly 500 interactions with people through its mobile services unit between November 2020 and February of this year, and that almost 70 of those interactions resulted in people getting housing.

The STC submitted a report to the committee that stated Seweyihtotan (pronounced suh-way-eeh-totan) also helps connect those who need help to services.

When addressing the committee, he was careful to point out the program uses the term “relatives” for the people with whom staff interact.

“We don’t call them clients, we don’t call them patients, we call them our relatives because that’s who they are,” he said, speaking through Microsoft Teams to the virtual meeting.

“They’re people with challenges… We just need the proper medical plan for them to get help.”

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Saskatoon Police Services chief Troy Cooper gave it a ringing endorsement.

“It fills a critical role that’s not addressed by any other service or any other program related to safety,” he said.

“We see their value particularly in the downtown and business community, when a response to a social issue is required but enforcement is not.”

He told the committee that police do not have the tools or connections to programs to have a lasting impact.

He went on to say Saweyihtotan not only connects people to programs but also remains in contact and tracks which methods work and what barriers stand in the way, “which is important so we don’t have to make assumptions about what is successful.”

The program was borne of necessity. The COVID-19 pandemic has put vulnerable people at much further risk and the City of Saskatoon shut down the City Centre Inn and Suites last July, displacing around 150 people.

The STC, along with the City, several provincial ministries and the Saskatoon Inter-Agency Response to COVID-19, a collection of community-based organizations, banded together to create Saweyihtotan.

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Mayor Charlie Clark, speaking in favour of the initiative, said, “the old ways [of using and accessing social supports] have not been providing the results we need. And we need to be innovative and address these issues in a new way.”

He proposed a motion charging the administration with finding the $100,000 and presenting a report to city council as soon as possible.

Councillor Mairin Loewen proposed another motion, calling for administrators to examine ongoing funding for Seweyihtotan.

The committee passed both unanimously, sending them to city council at a future date for approval.

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