Clockwise from top left: Sarah Buhler, Chantelle Johnson, Dr. Brenda Mishak (PhD), Dr. Keith Da Silva (DDS), Andrea Kotlar, and Jason Mercredi.
Clockwise from top left: Sarah Buhler, Chantelle Johnson, Dr. Brenda Mishak (PhD), Dr. Keith Da Silva (DDS), Andrea Kotlar, and Jason Mercredi. (Photos: Submitted)

USask initiative funds projects studying homelessness, housing security

The University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) donor-funded Pathways to Equity initiative has awarded funding to a trio of projects focused on housing security, renters’ rights, and homelessness.

By Matt Olson for Research Profile and Impact

The projects, all involving collaborations between USask researchers and community leaders, aim to provide better understanding of a variety of housing issues for Saskatchewan residents.

Justice and equity for renters fuels legal experts’ research project

USask College of Law associate professor Sarah Buhler is working closely with Chantelle Johnson, executive director of Community Legal Assistance Services for Saskatoon Inner City Inc. (CLASSIC), on the project, “Access to Justice for Renters in Saskatchewan.”   

The project, which seeks to identify barriers renters face in trying to access appropriate legal resources when it comes to fighting for their housing rights, was awarded $9,791.  

“I think general society assumes laws and systems are working in ways that they aren’t,” Johnson said. “It’s always good to bring these systemic stories to light.” 

Johnson and the team at CLASSIC have identified that when it comes to eviction hearings at Saskatchewan’s Office of Residential Tenancies, many renters facing eviction have simply not attended their hearings.  

Buhler and Johnson are creating an outreach survey for those directly impacted by these situations. By reaching out directly to those who cannot or will not attend eviction hearings, the researchers hope to understand access-to-justice barriers that tenants face. 

As Buhler puts it, eviction can be devastating. Making sure everyone has fair access to the tools to avoid that situation is important — and ensuring that appropriate government bodies understand those barriers — is the best way to remove the barriers, she said. 

“It’s great that the university is interested in local research,” Buhler said. “It’s important for everyone to be concerned about issues that affect the most marginalized and vulnerable members of our society.” 

She lauded Johnson and the team at CLASSIC, noting that the project would be impossible without the community organization’s frontline connections.

MN-S, USask partner to address rural and northern homelessness

Dr. Brenda Mishak (PhD) from USask’s College of Nursing and Jason Mercredi with Métis Nation–Saskatchewan (MN–S) received $10,000 for their project aimed at addressing rising homelessness in rural and northern Saskatchewan. 

Mercredi, director of housing for MN–S, said not much data was available when discussing issues of homelessness among Métis people, so a project aimed at creating concrete datasets at the community level would have a significant impact.  

“This is going to be data from people in Saskatchewan, Métis citizens in Saskatchewan, and it’s music to our ears,” Mercredi said. “We need to make sure we’re making data-based and distinctions-based decisions.” 

He noted that MN–S is seeing record levels of homelessness and poverty in Saskatchewan, which makes funding this area of research that much more important.  

The plan for the project is to engage with attendees at Back to Batoche Days, the annual cultural celebration organized by MN–S, in 2023. By connecting at the ground level, Mishak said they hope to gather the best data possible to take to government decision makers.   

Mishak said the research team was still creating an advisory committee by tapping people in positions to affect policy in the province.  

Her hope — one echoed by Mercredi — is that the funding from the Pathways to Equity initiative can be the start of many projects exploring homelessness among rural and Métis people in Saskatchewan.  

“We’re planting a seed, with hopes to grow in many directions,” Mishak said. “The ultimate goal is to influence policy, which is often the root of homelessness.” 

Improving income and housing security for residents with FASD

Dr. Keith Da Silva (DDS), assistant professor at USask’s College of Dentistry, and Andrea Kotlar, executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Network of Saskatchewan, are planning groundbreaking research aimed at the financial and housing welfare of provincial residents with FASD.  

Awarded $9,832, the collaborative project will reach out to those who have lived experience with FASD to better understand their barriers to accessing government income and housing assistance programs.  

Kotlar said many of their clients with FASD are part of the low-income demographic, and government supplemental programs — such as the recently changed Saskatchewan Income Support program — are not providing an adequate income for those affected by FASD.  

“Some people have to make the tough decision about, if they pay rent, maybe they don’t eat. Or if they decide to spend money on food or clothing, they can’t necessarily pay rent,” she said.  

The research project will examine a previously untapped area of focus by looking specifically at housing security.  

Da Silva, who is also on the board of the FASD Network, said his interest in this area of research came from helping with a free USask dental clinic in Saskatoon. He said watching and helping patients navigate social assistance for dental care highlighted the interconnectedness of Saskatchewan’s social systems, as well as the need for more research into these areas. 

“Through our attempts to highlight a problem that is unique to this population, it leads to more resources down the road,” Da Silva said. “These clients need navigators; they can’t do it on their own.”