Jason Mercredi says it’s not what’s in the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan that causes him concern — it’s what’s not.
“There was not much in there to do, if at all, with the homeless population,” he said of the five-phase plan unveiled by the province on Thursday to bring back services reduced or closed because of the pandemic.
Mercredi is executive director of AIDS Saskatoon, one of 50 groups in a coalition of Saskatoon agencies working together to help the vulnerable.
The coalition has said throughout the pandemic that finding affordable housing for the homeless is key to stopping the spread of COVID-19, because it allows people to properly self-isolate and distance.
“If you think contact tracing is hard for the general public, what do you do when you’re trying to do it with the homeless population where they don’t know the people in the environments they were in and they can’t tell you every place they’ve been at?” he said.
“Without housing these folks, we could be reversing all the good work that’s happened so far in the province.”
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark echoed these concerns at a news conference Friday.
“We know to this day there are still situations where we have front-line agencies trying to find people housing and trying to get them to be able to be supported, to stay safe inside — whether it’s in a house, an apartment or a hotel,” he said.
“But there are still some gaps in the system that are leading to people being ending up on the streets.”
Mercredi said the coalition’s immediate priority remains finding housing for people in need. It will continue to meet with government officials to assess where the sector fits into the reopening plan.
He thinks there will be clarity by Phase 3, when the range of personal services reopening broadens.
“In Phase 3 they start to get into a little bit more contact, where there’s actual contact between people. That’s where I’d be gauging it,” he said.
Premier Scott Moe said Friday that the government is not ignoring the needs of the homeless and will continue to work directly with a range of food banks, shelters and community-based organizations.
“We will continue to work with them to ensure that those those services are being provided,” he said in an interview on CBC Saskatchewan’s The Morning Edition.
He said that Social Services Minister Paul Merriman is working directly with shelters.