SASKATOON — For the second year in a row, YXE Connects provided free services and access to community vendors in the inner city, at White Buffalo Youth Lodge and City Centre Church on 20th St., May 16 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. At various stations and tables, participants were offered everything from a massage to health care, to counselling, to literacy programs, to shoes and a haircut. The goal is to provide one-stop shopping for people who experience barriers to services, programs, and community organizations.
YXE Connects co-ordinator Justin Fisher said they were thrilled to offer the program to an appreciative core neighbourhood, explaining that with over 70 different service providers and double that number of volunteers, they were expecting more than 1,000 people throughout the day.
“The service providers are providing a range of services like chiropractic, physical therapy, massage therapy, haircuts — all these things are provided for free,” explained Fisher. “So the idea is to bring everything into one place, for one day, to offer it in a barrier-free environment, both to provide services and to connect community members with all the amazing community agencies and supports available in Saskatoon.”
Modelled after similar events in centres like Edmonton, Toronto, and the original template from San Francisco, Fisher explained that it doesn’t just provide services, it also creates community and connection. Homelessness, taking a broad definition of the term, is a growing problem in Saskatoon, and looking at what was being offered in other cities, they thought a similar program was needed in Saskatoon.
“A lot of people in Saskatoon have trouble accessing services,” Fisher said, noting numbers were already up from last year. “Within a few minutes of the haircuts opening they were booked for hours.” He noted similar response with the free massages being offered. He had nothing but praise for the service providers. “It’s a very positive environment.”
The two buildings — City Centre being a former bingo hall converted to a worship space — were filled with people of all ages, from the elderly to the infirm to young families pushing strollers or with children in tow.
Fisher expressed his gratitude to the United Way and the Community Initiatives Fund for providing funding and support so that they could double their access and improve services this year. He also thanked City Centre and White Buffalo for providing their buildings free of charge for the community and service providers.
One volunteer noted that even with full-time employment, there were many services he couldn’t afford on his salary, such as a massage, so he was encouraged to come and get a massage on his break.
“I wish this happened more frequently than once a year,” noted the volunteer, adding the location and the services are excellent. “They’re bringing so much joy and practical supports to people right where they are.”
“I feel like I could fall asleep after my massage,” said elder Maria Linklater, beaming from her wheelchair. “But now I’m going over to the other building to do some shopping.”
Value Village had tables of free clothing, while literacy programs, the sexual assault centre, the public library, and many other vendors provided information and services via staff and volunteers.