Saskatoon meals financial institution sees inflow of purchasers after SIS

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SIS allots $575 per month for shelter in Regina and Saskatoon and $285 for a basic allowance, meant to include food, clothing and utilities.

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Jillian Smith Laurie O'Connor is the executive director of the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre. Laurie O’Connor is the executive director of the Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre. Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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The Saskatoon Food Bank and Learning Centre is seeing more hungry people come through its doors after the province fully switched over to the new Saskatchewan Income Support (SIS) program in September.

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“Definitely, we’re seeing a steady increase as the months go by, which is not unexpected considering all of the circumstances going on in Saskatoon right now,” said executive director Laurie O’Connor.

The end of federal benefits during the pandemic is having an impact, but so is SIS, she said.

SIS has been phased in over the last two years to replace the Social Assistance Program (SAP) and the Transitional Employment Allowance (TEA). It came into full effect at the end of August.

“The SIS program, as it exists currently, is not a strong safety net. It doesn’t allow folks to survive, never mind get ahead or thrive in any way, shape or form,” O’Connor said.

“We know from the work we do collaboratively with other agencies, folks are definitely being forced onto the street.”

Since it came into full effect, rallies have been held in Saskatoon and Regina over SIS. One point of contention is that money is no longer paid directly to landlords and utility companies.

“We would join the call for rents and utility bills to be directly paid,” O’Connor said.

“We are hearing stories within our walls about folks definitely struggling either to get back onto assistance after having federal benefits, or to maintain housing with the amount of money that they’re getting, or with the way it’s being paid.”

In response to an interview request, the Ministry of Social Services sent a prepared statement attributed to Minister Lori Carr.

“All levels of government have a role to play in addressing homelessness, and the province takes its role very seriously. I would like to recognize all community leaders and partners for their support to better serve those in our community who are struggling,” it said.

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“The Government of Saskatchewan continues to listen and collaborate with our partners in the community on ways we can better support clients with more complex needs who may be at risk of being homeless, and who require more support to see success. We will continue to work with community-based organizations on ways to address these issues.”

The ministry said it’s not new for income assistance clients to pay their rent and bills directly, adding that in 2019-20, 70 per cent of SAP and TEA clients paid their own bills.

SIS allots $575 per month for shelter in Regina and Saskatoon and $285 for a basic allowance, which is meant to include food, clothing and utilities.

Food bank users are allowed to come twice a month, accessing enough food for three or four days each time. O’Connor said she knows people stretch the food farther than that, adding that she hears of parents skipping meals so their kids can eat.

Providing nutritious food is the food bank’s number one priority, but financial contributions always help. O’Connor is asking people to rally their MLAs to enact changes to the SIS program.

“Food banks are not a solution to folks not having enough money to live,” she said.

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