Getting out of the cold

Brian Howell shivers, even though he’s not outside.

The interior of the River Bank Development Corporation office isn’t nearly as cold as the exterior, where pedestrians brave -27 C temperatures and cars sputter and groan when starting. Still, you can feel a pinch of cold even with thick walls separating the great outdoors from the River Bank board room.

“I can’t imagine being homeless today,” Howell says.

As River Bank’s executive director, he’s used to imagining the unbelievable. Since 1998 the organization has helped construct 35 new rental units for low-income families in Prince Albert, while purchasing and renovating another 55.

However, Howell emphasizes that the organization never could have been successful without strong community partners. Now, they’re looking to strengthen those bonds both inside and outside Prince Albert as part of their goal to eradicate homeless.

“It’s a big issue in all (Saskatchewan) cities,” Howell says. “There’s just generally a feeling that efforts against it have been piecemeal and uncoordinated and could (use) a bit of a combined effort.”

The ball is already rolling on a provincial strategy, or at least more provincial cooperation. Groups from Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina all met recently with the provincial government to try and find some common ground on an issue that never seems to go away.

Howell says that provincial conversation can’t just be limited to non-profits and service groups either. It needs to include municipal leaders too.

With that in mind, Howell arrive at the city’s most recent executive committee meeting to keep councillors up to date on what’s happening in the community in hopes that they’ll lend their voice to an important cause.

“They see homelessness as an issue in Prince Albert (and) they’re supportive of affordable housing initiatives,” Howell says of the city’s political representatives. “We just need more affordable units. There’s a lot of housing in Prince Albert, but it’s out of the reach of many people. The costs are high and it’s market level housing that’s not necessarily directed towards people with serious issues.”

More involvement from municipal leaders would be welcome sign for most of Prince Albert’s non-profits.

The YWCA’s Homeward Bound program has been one of the most successful programs in the city, largely thanks to strong cooperation with the city’s landlords and property owners, as well as organizations like the Prince Albert Police Service.

Program manager Dave Hobden says it’s one of the city’s great strengths, and he’s hopeful city council will add even more weight to the cause.

“The police agency is phenomenal with us, but I’d like to see city council get on board and just say, ‘this is working, and how can we support ending homelessness in this community,’” he says.

Like Howell, Hobden also wants to see stronger communication across the province. As money gets tighter, he says programs like Homeward Bound have to get more bang for their buck, and the only way to do that is through stronger partnerships. That’s something that didn’t always happen 25 or 30 years ago. Now, it’s becoming a necessity.

“There’s no question that you’ve got to be innovative,” Hobden says. “Even before the money crunch, we had to focus on what we do best and then seek out services from other agencies.”

Innovation is key for Howell and River Bank Development Corp. too. He says the next two years will bring lots of change, and that’s going to take some outside the box thinking.

“More money would be helpful, but realistically we’ll probably have to work with what’s out there,” he says. “It’s just how to work better together.”

@kerr_jas • jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca

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Jason Kerr is a reporter with the Prince Albert Daily Herald. You can reach him at 306-764-4276 ext. 248, by email at jason.kerr@paherald.sk.ca or on Twitter @kerr_jas. His latest articles can be found at https://paherald.sk.ca/author-jasonkerr/.