Saskatoon Emergency youth shelter opens at White Buffalo Youth Lodge
- NC Raine | August 08, 2020
A new emergency youth shelter in Saskatoon is working to meet the basic needs of young people while providing resources to boost their mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.
The Saskatoon Tribal Council opened the 20-bed shelter on July 9 at White Buffalo Youth Lodge (WBYL). The youth shelter has been named 'Miskasowin', a Cree word meaning finding yourself, or finding your centre.
“What we're trying to do is allowing people to take that next step if they're ready,” said Jolon Lafond, director at WBYL.
“We're really working to creating those roads for youth who need (assistance) to go down – it's basically a road with a handrail.”
The youth shelter is open seven days a week, from 10 p.m to 8 a.m, for individuals of any background aged 16 to 25. The beds are located in the WBYL gymnasium, with one section for females and LGBTQ+ individuals, and another for males. The youth have access to the kitchen and washrooms, lockers, and personal hygiene products, and the shelter has ensured all social distancing requirements are met.
“We opened as a response to COVID-19, as well as some of the needs already identified throughout the city,” said Lafond. “In the initial months, there was a lot of hoarding going on, a lot of families struggling with groceries and meeting basic needs.”
Lafond said that they've seen a lot of youth who previously relied on 'sofa-surfing' for temporary shelter now out on the streets as many families they previously relied on are no longer able to accommodate them.
“The need is extreme,” said STC Chief Mark Arcand.
“From what we've seen and heard, there's been a lot of domestic violence and mental health issues from people being cooped up and not being able to go to work or school. It's really detrimental to a young person's development.”
There were only one or two youth in the shelter when it initially opened, but now they're up to eight or ten a night, said Arcand.
The shelter has funding to remain open until the end of December, but hopes to remain open indefinitely, as well as expand their services offered. They currently offer income assistance, housing assistance, addiction referrals, mental health and wellness services, and access to elders and health practitioners, all through their community resource liaison team. They also plan to offer recreational services in the fall.
“We're also exploring transitional housing options, as well as semi-independent living, based on those individuals needs,” said Lafond. “We don't want to put pressure on people who aren't ready.”
Lafond said that they majority of the youth they work with have addictions or mental health issues. He said the community needs to do a better job of finding resources and assisting youth in a way that is non-threatening.
“There's a Western way of offering services that can be very intrusive,” said Lafond. “They're sometimes not comfortable with those initial stages, and so what've seen (...) is that those coming in our door are very appreciative of the status-blind services we're offering now.”
“The word is growing about the shelter. Now we have the next step, which is what we're doing in the long-term,” added Arcand. “It becomes a bigger picture of solving a need of safety and quality of life for individuals so these young people have a chance to be successful in life.”