Building Communities in Inner-city Saskatoon

(supplement to Preventing Crime Through Social Development No. 8, April 2004)

Poor housing conditions and low levels of home ownership often make for high crime rates in a neighbourhood, especially when low household incomes, family disharmony and delinquent peers are added to the mix.

Unfortunately, that is the norm in Saskatoon's five inner-city neighbourhoods. Gangs and street crime abound as younger and poorer people, often Aboriginal, move in and older residents leave the area. Local social worker Lori Poulai points out that one of those neighbourhoods, Pleasant Hill, has a lower rate of home ownership (22%) than it does of social assistance (25%) – and the average household income is about $21,000 per year.

A powerful force for change is Quint Community Economic Development Corporation, a non-profit organization founded by residents of the five core neighbourhoods in 1995. When a community meeting concluded two years later that affordable housing was key to solving inner city problems, Quint stepped forward with solutions. By 2002 they had helped over 100 low-income families with children become homeowners. These families pay, on average, $33 less on their mortgage payments than they did on their previous rental payments.

Home homeownership has helped stabilize families and given them the chance to contribute more to their communities. Hope Schurman, one of the new homeowners, says "My kids have the sense of belonging, a sense of comfort, a sense of home. They have more respect for the things around them."

But not all young people have families that they can rely on. So in January 2003, Quint opened its Young Men's Home, which provides safe accommodation with 24-hour staffing for 10 young men, aged 16 to 22.

"All of these young men were homeless," says Mel McGhee, one of two live-in home operators. "A lot of them had no identification papers, no skills. Six months later, some have a job and $1,500 put away."

The house achieves this by giving residents "a fair bit of structure," says McGhee. Residents help cook and clean, and must attend dinner. Staff provide in-house counselling, and bring in addiction counsellors from other agencies. A case plan is developed for each resident.

About half of these young men have some involvement with the corrections system, says McGhee. Workers help them understand and follow their probation orders, and try to foster better attitudes towards the police.

Once residents have stabilized, they are expected to attend school or look for work. They are given help to apply for money for their post-secondary education, and if they have an income they are encouraged to start accumulating furniture. Being able to acquire things of their own is a big motivator for these young men, says McGhee.

For most residents, improvements are gradual. "Social services try to dictate a three-month stay," says Jim Clarke, the Business Development Coordinator at Quint. "But if residents are doing well, that's just when they start to improve."

Clarke says it takes at least a month for them to physically overcome their addictions, and much longer to develop enough trust in the staff to start dealing effectively with deeper issues. Then they need time to find a job, or to establish themselves back in school.

"One year is a good amount of time for them to live here," says McGhee. "Outreach has become a big thing too – they've got their job and their own apartment, but they still want support," he says.

With files from a Caledon report on the Quint home-ownership co-op program, see www.caledoninst.org/Publications/PDF/1%2D894598%2D40%2D7%2Epdf

For general information on Quint, contact Jim Clarke, Business Development Coordinator, by email at businessdev_quint@sasktel.net or Quint Development Corporation, Room 202 – 230, Avenue R South, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7M 0Z9. Tel: (306) 978-4041