March 31, 2021

Government Extends Sawêyihtotân Pilot With Saskatoon Tribal Council

The Government of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) have agreed to extend the Sawêyihtotân pilot project, which assists people experiencing homelessness to find stable and long-term housing.  Sawêyihtotân, pronounced "suh-WAY-EE-TOTE-tahn," means "to bless each other through our show of respect for each other."

Building on its initial contribution of $100,000, the Government of Saskatchewan will provide STC with an additional $350,000 to continue the pilot.

"I am so pleased by the initial success we have seen from this community-driven initiative, under the strong leadership of the Saskatoon Tribal Council," Social Services Minister Lori Carr said.  "Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to extend the pilot to fully realize the benefits of this important work for people in need in downtown Saskatoon.  We look forward to working with our partners at STC to continue making a difference."

During the first phase of the pilot, STC reported that the project team had nearly 500 interactions with people where they offered daily health check-ins, transportation assistance, meal delivery and help securing housing.  Operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sawêyihtotân team integrated with support services offered out of White Buffalo Youth Lodge and were able to find either short-term or long-term housing for more than 75 people.  The steering committee supported the project to reduce barriers for people to access services, and specifically supported the team in improved access to detox services and reducing the rate of unlawful inhabitations.

"STC is focused on delivering programs and services that wrap around and blanket our relatives, providing opportunities for reconnection through culture and kinship and improving quality of life," Tribal Chief Mark Arcand said.  "The Community Safety and Well-being Partners group and the Saskatchewan government have supported our 'for Indigenous, by Indigenous' project service model.  We are committed to being a part of the solution to break down barriers related to mental health, addictions, income and safe housing support.  Our focus is to support the well-being of our people, all people, as we are status-blind.  Based on the deliverables of the Sawêyihtotân project and the teachings gained in the process, we are moving forward to continue programming for our relatives, collaborating with partners and the business community."

When City Centre Inns and Suites closed in 2020 due to unsafe living conditions, government, STC and several community agencies worked together to support those who were displaced. This process identified the importance of Indigenous approaches to community service delivery.  To address this gap, STC - with support from community partners - initiated the Sawêyihtotân project, made up of an outreach team and a multi-sectoral steering committee.  The aim of the project is to address safety in downtown Saskatoon and to support people through the barriers they face to secure housing.

"The Sawêyihtotân pilot project has lived up to its meaning," Saskatoon Riversdale MLA Marv Friesen said.  "I am grateful for our partners at STC who took the initiative to build something good out of a challenging situation.  This innovative approach has proved that the best way to improve our communities is by working together.  I thank our partners at STC and look forward to the results of this continued partnership."

"The announcement of continued provincial support to the Sawêyihtotân project is very important," Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said.  "The Sawêyihtotân team have been able to make significant progress in a short time, in the face of a cold winter and the challenge of a pandemic.  The City of Saskatoon is proud to be a partner supporting the Sawêyihtotân team to use an Indigenous -led approach in caring for people living in homelessness.  Being able to work in partnership creates better outcomes for people and our city."

Partners of the Sawêyihtotân pilot project include the Ministry of Social Services, Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, Saskatchewan Health Authority, City of Saskatoon, Saskatoon Police Services, Saskatoon Fire Department and a number of community-based organizations that work collectively on community issues.  Additional funds to support the extension of the pilot will be determined in the near future.