Métis Nation-Saskatchewan hires manager to help with homeless

‘We need to mobilize and make sure that the focus isn’t just on the cities, but also on rural and northern Saskatchewan.’

The man who spearheaded the opening of the first safe consumption site on the Prairies during the pandemic without any government money is taking on another big challenge – this time for the Métis Nation-Saskatchewan (MN-S).

“Given the social assistance program is likely not going to change anytime soon, unless some major shifts happen with the way social assistance is delivered in this province, we need to be upstream with that,” says Jason Mercredi.

“But we need to mobilize and make sure that the focus isn’t just on the cities, but also on rural and northern Saskatchewan.”

As the head of Prairie Harm Reduction for nine years, Mercredi has become known as an alliance builder.

The MN—S said Mercredi has the experience to help them tackle the issues that are resulting in a growing number of Métis people ending up homeless.

Métis Nation-Saskatchewan

Mercredi, who started the safe consumption site in Saskatoon, says homelessness has been growing the past two years since the Saskatchewan government decided to pay social assistance recipients directly, instead of paying landlords for housing costs.

The president of MN-S, Glen McCallum, says emergency shelters and a lack of housing in small communities are just a couple of issues Mercredi will be tasked with looking at.

But McCallum says there are many factors contributing to homelessness, including mental health and addictions.

“Residential school does play a big factor in regard to how our people feel, and not only that but 60s Scoop apprehension cases, alcoholism, suicides and the list goes on,” he says.

McCallum believes a holistic approach is an answer and that Mercredi can help bring together different levels of government, with agencies already working on homelessness in communities.

Mercredi says as the homelessness manager, it will be his job to develop policies that make the most of the funding available.

“It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on.  Indigenous-non-indigenous, the current system is not working.  You know, and the current programming, level of programming is not adequate,” Mercredi says.

“You can’t be rubbing two pennies together.  We need to be helping mobilize and make a game plan to attack and get some sustainable solutions in there and get some research in those communities.”

Mercredi is Métis-Dené and a member of the Chipewyan Prairie First Nation who was born and raised in La Ronge.

He says every community is unique and has different needs so a “one size fits all” approach to homelessness won’t work.

“What are the community’s needs, not what are the government’s needs?  And I think that’s a big factor when you’re going to successfully address it, and actually get some programming dollars into these communities…it needs to be what the community wants, not what’s politically acceptable,” Mercredi says.

Mercredi has worked in Community Based Organizations for over 17 years.

He is a Co-Founder for Canada’s National HIV Testing Day and wrote the policy to introduce safer smoking supplies into Saskatchewan Needle Exchanges.

He also advocated for the provincial expansion of the take-home naloxone program.