Saskatoon’s White Buffalo Youth Lodge is trying to fill the gap for homeless youth in Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods trying to find a place to sleep each night during the pandemic.
The lodge, located on 20th street, is known as a place where youth can gather to shoot some hoops. Now it has put in a 20-bed overnight shelter for young people with nowhere else to go.
The shelter is open every day from late evening until morning for anyone aged 16 to 25.
“They have a place to shower, they have a place to wash your clothes,” said Mark Arcand, Chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council, which oversees the White Buffalo Youth Lodge.
“They get breakfast and they get referred to our hub program inside of the White Buffalo that turns them into other services of counselling whatever it may be … and access to computers, printers, phones, whatever they need. It’s all under one roof.”
The lodge offers housing and income assistance to youth, along with addiction referrals, mental health and wellness services, and access to elders and health professionals.
Arcand said that since the pandemic hit the lodge has seen an increase in addiction and mental health issues among vulnerable youth.
White Buffalo was able to get six months worth of funding through the Saskatchewan Housing Initiative Program to start up the emergency shelter in its gymnasium in early July.
Since then it has had more than 200 visits, with five to 10 youth using the shelter every night, Arcand said.
Arcand said the lodge is an ideal place for the shelter because of its location and its standing in the community.
“It’s First Nations people delivering services to First Nations people,” Arcand said, adding staff understand the culture, language and identity of the young people who are coming through the door.
Arcand said the lodge hopes to get more sustainable funding to allow the shelter to stay open through the winter.
“When you see those kinds of numbers since July 9, having about 210 visits, it’s quite high. That tells me there’s a need and we’ve really got to make sure that we’re addressing that need.”
Arcand said the lodge is also looking at long-term initiatives such as housing, education and employment for these youth, and how to address addiction issues and mental health issues in a more meaningful way.
He said COVID-19 affects everyone, but especially society’s most vulnerable people who are compromised due to addictions, poverty or other negative situations.
“At the end of the day we’re really focusing on good outcomes and positive results for these young people,” he said.