Funding will be distributed in communities such as Saskatoon, Battlefords, and Pinehouse Lake

From left: Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, legislative secretary to the Minister of Social Services and Moose Jaw Wakamow MLA Greg Lawrence, Minister of Status of Women Maryam Monsef, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale, and president of Stewart Properties Tyler Stewart, all at Sanctum 1.5(Bridget Yard/CBC)

A new Saskatoon building aimed at housing pregnant women with HIV is still tarped with exposed wiring inside but Katelyn Roberts already knows the 10-unit, co-housing project will be full when it opens.

“And we’ll continue to be full,” said Roberts, the executive director of Sanctum, a non-profit that provides care to people living with HIV/AIDS.

On Monday, the Saskatchewan and federal governments announced a joint investment of $765,500 to Stewart properties, the housing corporation constructing Sanctum 1.5. An additional $100,000 is being provided by the City of Saskatoon.

The home on Avenue O South has a common kitchen, four bathrooms, and recreational space that will be used by women living with HIV and AIDS, or are at risk of contracting the disease.

The non-profit Sanctum is building a pre-natal home for women with HIV. Pictured: Executive director Katelyn Roberts (left) and program director Kathy Malbeuf. (Submitted by Sanctum)

“In Saskatchewan, we have the highest rates of HIV in the country and we also have the highest numbers of women who are HIV-positive of child-bearing age and we also live in a community where many women struggle with addiction and chronic homelessness,” said Roberts.

The most meaningful intervention and support that can be provided, she said, is when women are pregnant. The goal of Sanctum in this project is to prevent children being apprehended by social services at birth.

The Ministry of Social Services generally does not work with mothers until after they’ve given birth.

“Because of the lack of support while [the mothers] were pregnant, the baby gets apprehended and placed in childcare and that critical bond between mom and baby doesn’t take place,” said Roberts.

Providing support and parenting support to the future mothers who will live at Sanctum 1.5 might also aid in reducing the risk of vertical transmission of HIV.

The chances of such transmission is less than 2 per cent when women have access to appropriate medication.

Over 50 affordable units to be built

The Sanctum 1.5 funding announcement is part of a larger injection of funds into Saskatchewan’s affordable housing infrastructure. Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women, was on hand Monday for the announcement, and described how social housing supported her and her family when she and her family came to Canada as refugees.

“It was a welcoming community that let us in with open arms. It was safety networks like social housing that allowed me to continue my education and finish, to see the value in community organizations like the ones we’re supporting today,” she said.

Those organizations include Sanctum in Saskatoon.

The other projects funded by the $6.7 million announced on Monday include:

  • $2.5 million for 10 affordable rental units for seniors in La Ronge.
  • $1.1 million for nine family rental units in Pinehouse Lake, Sask.
  • $640,000 for Methy Housing Corporation to build six rental units in La Loche for single-parent families.
  • $312,500 for Prince Albert CMHA to build six units for people with mental illness and complex needs.
  • $570,000 for Gabriel Housing Corporation in Regina to build six units for families with complex needs.
  • $500,000 for Battleford Indian and Métis Friendship Centre to develop an eight-unit co-housing project for the city’s homeless population.

When Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark stepped to the podium at Sanctum 1.5, he encouraged those present to remember what the area near Avenue O South and 21st Street was like 15 years ago.

​He called it “the stroll.”

“It was a dark time, a dark place to have in the community, and you think, what can we do to come together to create the conditions to prevent this?”

To break cycles of poverty, homelessness, and racism that keep people marginalized, Clark says partnerships need to come from the community.

Monsef agreed when speaking to reporters on behalf of the federal government.

“We can play the role of a convener and bring different partners together, but ultimately, communities know their neighbours best,” she said.

Author: Bridget Yard