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City of Regina identifies possible site for permanent housing

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City Manager Niki Anderson, amid concerns expressed by some city councilors, has proposed purchasing rather than renting to ensure greater “stability” in the future.

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After years of temporary solutions, the realization of a permanent, urban emergency shelter for the homeless is one step closer.

On Wednesday, the executive committee supported a possible site for a new animal shelter and endorsed a plan to move forward with its purchase as early as mid-June.

Since last January, city staff had been working to find a site for a permanent emergency shelter that would replace the existing temporary site downtown.

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There is little information available about the location of the newly selected site, other than that it is a “unique site suitable for accommodation” that has “connections to core areas of the city, services and public transport,” according to a report from the administration to the city council.

The administration was instructed to publicly announce the location at a meeting on June 12.

A formal notice of purchase is required for the property, subject to the direction of the City Council, by June 19th at the latest.

The news comes nearly a year after a tent camp was removed from City Hall grounds and 16 months after the opening of a 55-bed temporary shelter downtown, known as The meeting place is at the Nest Health Centre.

Since its opening in January 2023, the accommodation has been continuously at full capacity with the support of the city and the state. The financing was last extended in the fall until April; the city's lease with the Nest expires in July 2025.

Tent camp in front of Regina Town Hall
Makeshift tents from a former homeless camp are seen in front of Regina City Hall on June 23, 2023. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

On Wednesday, City Manager Niki Anderson said the purchase recommendation was motivated by a desire to have more “stability” with the city owning the property rather than committing to another lease.

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“As the word 'permanent' implies, there is certainty,” she continued. “Permanent housing is frankly better than thinking about what we're going to do with 50 people next July.”

The proposed purchase will go before the City Council for final approval on June 12. Councilmen Lori Bresciani (Ward 4) and Bob Hawkins (Ward 2) voted against, while Mayor Sandra Masters and Councilmen Landon Mohl (Ward 10) and John Findura (Ward 5) were absent.

After being given details in a confidential meeting with administration, Bresciani said she had “problems with this location.”

“If we want to do something, it is imperative that we find the right location,” she said.

The new building is around 930 square meters in size and would offer sufficient space for sleeping, reception, consultation and office areas as well as a kitchen.

Anderson said it could accommodate “as many people as are currently in the nest.”

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The cost of opening an emergency shelter at the new location is approximately $7.5 million, shared by the city, province and federal governments, of which $5.7 million would go toward purchasing the land and $1.8 million would go toward renovating the space.

The governments of Saskatchewan and Canada will each contribute $3 million, and the City of Regina will contribute the remaining $1.5 million from the tax-funded Social Development Reserve.

The province's share would be a 10-year loan from the Saskatchewan Housing Corporation to mortgage the property, putting a strain on the city's debt. Federal funds from a one-time housing and transportation grant are already available.

An additional $22,000 per month would be needed for operations, maintenance, security and insurance, which would have to be borne entirely by the city. The comparable expenses in the Nest are about $75,000 per month, according to staff.

“This new facility will take a kind of net-zero energy approach,” said Councilman Andrew Stevens (Ward 3) in reference to the beds offered. “But I would say there are greater risks financially and because of the social reality of not pursuing it.”

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City Councillor Andrew Stevens
Councillor Andrew Stevens (Ward 3) at Regina City Hall on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

“What we have here is a classic case of provincial downloading,” Hawkins replied.

Anderson confirmed that at this time there have been no discussions with nearby residents or businesses about establishing low-barrier accommodation in their community.

If the purchase goes through, the city promises regular check-ins with residents and businesses near the facility, an expansion of community assistance programs and greater cooperation with the police.

Anderson said the province has also promised to continue funding the emergency shelter until the permanent shelter opens.

By the end of 2024, the City of Regina will have donated $1.2 million to operate the gathering place. The Ministry of Social Services has pledged a total of $4.4 million by March 2025.

During budget negotiations for 2022, the city manager's office said it would cost the city at least $98 million to end homelessness among the estimated 488 people living on the streets in Regina.

— with files from Alec Salloum

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