Prince Albert City Council turns down budget discussion on homeless transportation program

Herald file photo

Prince Albert City Council has decided not to move forward with a proposed pilot project to transport people living on the streets back to their home communities.

On Monday, Ward 6 Coun. Blake Edwards motioned that council discuss allocating $25,000 to a transportation program at an upcoming budget meeting.

“People come for court and there’s no way home. Release from institutions, correctional centres, out the door. See ya later, no way to get home – and that’s a problem,” said Edwards.

Edwards said Chad Nilson, who the city hired to compile a report on homelessness, identified transportation as a barrier. When the province axed the Saskatchewan Transportation Company in 2017, Edwards said it left a lot of people stranded in larger municipalities.

About two weeks ago, Edwards said he approached a man who was digging through a garbage bin. He said he came to Prince Albert for more opportunities, but that he couldn’t find housing.

The man said he likely would have the supports back in his home community if he had a way to get there, Edwards explained.

“This is a small amount to deal with a growing issue in this city,” Edwards told council. “(It’s) pretty evident by the amount of people on the street asking for money every single day.”

Ward 3 Coun. Tony Head said he’s gotten a lot of negative feedback on the idea.

“There’s a lot wrong with this motion, I have to say,” said Head. 

“I don’t think this is the way to go. This is passing the buck and/or passing off the problem to potentially other communities.”

Head said the project would require consultation with chief and councils in surrounding First Nations. He added that some come to Prince Albert because they’ve been kicked out of their home communities.

Instead, Head said he would support investing in downtown public washrooms or warmup shelters.

“It doesn’t change the situation, but it does offer at least people some dignity in our community, and I think that’s what’s lacking here.”

Other concerns raised included picking up the responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments with limited funds. Several councillors said to push for more support from other levels of government, but Edwards said that approach comes with a “snail pace.”

Other councillors said they couldn’t support the motion without more detail.

Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody said details would come, and that “what we’re trying to do here is get something started.”

“Certainly, this resolution is not perfect. We know that, everybody knows that…Let’s help out a wee bit.”

Edwards’ motion was defeated.

The City of Prince Albert recently hired a community safety and well-being coordinator as the point of contact for its Chronic Risk Solutions Forum. The overall goal is to develop new programming and prevention strategies for social issues.