Housing advocate calls city ‘the worst’ for addressing affordable housing, homelessness
While some Winnipeggers loaded their plates with a Thanksgiving feast, unsheltered people lined the parking lot of Siloam Mission in hopes of a warm meal, sandwich or a pair of clean socks.
Norman Bedard, 57, has been homeless for two years.
“Do you know what it’s like to always be under anxiety? Your stomach never settles. Okay, so you never go to the bathroom properly. You never digest food properly. You never enjoy your food because it could be your last meal,” Bedard said.
In 2021, there were 1,127 people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg, according to the 2021 Winnipeg Interim Street Census. Out of that number, 370 people remained unsheltered, excluding encampments.
“The City of Winnipeg is the worst for addressing affordable housing and homelessness,” said Brian Pincott, a spokesperson for the Right to Housing Coalition (R2H), a local advocacy group.
Pincott, a former city councillor in Calgary, has sat on various boards for affordable housing and homelessness agencies.
City needs more staff to deal with homelessness: advocate
Winnipeg has lost over 19,000 affordable housing units in the last decade, according to R2H.
We lose affordable housing when a rundown building is redeveloped, but developers turn it into something high-end, Pincott said.
“It happens all the time,” Pincott said.
Pincott says redevelopment is necessary, but no net loss policies are essential. Darcey Stabner says he’s been homeless for almost four years.
Stabner said he heard on the news derelict and vacant homes would be fixed up to help combat homelessness.
Some mayoral candidates have pledged to convert derelict homes into affordable housing. “That is a terrific and heartfelt idea,” Stabner said.
But the city will need to hire more staff, or it won’t happen, Pincott said. “Our housing staff is pitiful compared to other cities,” Pincott said.
Winnipeg has 40 per cent of city housing staff compared to other cities in Canada, according to R2H.
The city needs to hire seven dedicated staff members for the housing department, which would cost about $1 million dollars a year, Pincott said.
“We spend $150 million dollars fixing potholes, but we can’t spend a million dollars for a safe place for people to sleep,” Pincott said.
Bedard said he has been looking for housing for the past two months.
“I have got six different places looking, and I am still homeless,” Berard said.
New tech guards unsheltered people from multiple retellings of traumatic stories
“There’s not one entity that can do it by themselves,” said Betty Edel, Director of Housing Supports, End Homelessness Winnipeg.
Non-profits currently act as separate silos of information, but organizations need to work together to better assist people, Edel said.
The organization is turning to technology to try and move things along.
End Homelessness is introducing Homeless Individuals and Families Information System (HIFIS) – a centralized database that 65 organizations are contributing to, Edel said.
HIFIS is a trauma-informed system, as it relieves clients from repeating their stories multiple times to multiple agencies.
“If we say we want to end homelessness, we need to understand who’s coming into homelessness, why they’re coming into it, and how can we track the journey like if the people have been housed three times, why?” Edel said.
Housing is part of reconciliation, federal government says
“Access to safe and adequate housing is critical to improving health and social outcomes and essential to advancing self-determination and reconciliation,” says the Government of Canada.
According to the Street Census, 66 per cent of Winnipeg’s homeless population is Indigenous.
The city needs to be mindful that Winnipeg is unceded Treaty 1 Territory, Edel said. So, the city needs to reflect and review how its policies and processes impact people living in encampments.
“We just need to be more mindful of the psychological impact we have when when we treat people in a way that we think we can just throw away everything,” Edel said.
People live in encampments for many reasons. Encampments can build a sense of community. Some people don’t feel safe in shelters or are denied due to sobriety barriers, Edel said.
Just because people are coping with their pain by using substances, doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a safe place to sleep that night, Edel said.
‘They are Winnipeggers, they are your responsibility’
Poverty reduction is a provincial responsibility. But Pincott suggests playing jurisdictional games won’t do anything to solve the issue.
“Who cares if it’s your [the City of Winnipeg] responsibility or not? They are your citizens. They are Winnipeggers, they are your responsibility. They are dying,” Pincott said.
Candidates haven’t indicated that homelessness is a significant priority for them, Pincott believes.
“Not doing something is choosing to say, ‘that is OK, some people deserve to live on the street,’” Pincott said.
A survey of mayoral candidate’s platforms shows a majority have made pledges to address homelessness in various ways. Candidate pledges can be found at Winnipeg Better.
The 2022 Winnipeg Street Census took place on May 25. The findings have not been released.
Homeless man fears future if problems persist
Since being homeless, Bedard said he has been assaulted over 20 times, the last time by a baseball bat.
“It’s hell out here man,” Bedard said. “I want to get out of homelessness.” Berard said he wants to get back to what he called a “normal life.”
“I tried to work. I’ve had eight different jobs. I lasted a couple of weeks at each. I get too depressed. I quit. Winter hits. I sleep all winter. That’s my cycle right now,” Bedard said.
Winnipeg Better has published voters’ guides for all the mayoral candidates — in them you can find the candidates pledges on how they pledge to deal with homelessness in the city. Available on the site’s home page.
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Shauna Turnley is on Substack: https://shaunaturnley.substack.com
Updated Oct. 13 7:45 p.m.: Corrects typo in lede, alters subheading