Brandon desperate for emergency shelter for homeless

A weekend of blistering cold has raised the call for an emergency shelter in Brandon.
A weekend of blistering cold has raised the call for an emergency shelter in Brandon, Man. 1:54

A weekend of blistering cold has raised the call for an emergency shelter in Brandon.

Marla Somersall, who heads Samaritan House food bank, is part of the Safe and Warm committee trying to get a central full time shelter established in the western Manitoba city.

They have a location but not the funding.

Ossie Jandrow was homeless for the past three years and nearly died under the snow in Brandon last winter. (CBC)
"We need to come up with close to $50,000 for security, which sounds like a huge amount of money, but [it will go towards] paying two security guards for 12 hours a night," she said.

Ossie Jandrow knows the dangers of the cold all too well, having spent three years homeless in Brandon. His best friend froze to death, and Jandrow almost met the same fate last year.

"I dont know how they found me, but I was laying underneath the snowbank. They just had to take me to the hospital and I was there for two weeks 'cause they had to unthaw my whole body," he said.

This winter he's got a place to live but know there are others out there, trying to find a place somewhere to sleep.

"I don't want to find nobody else," he said.

Growing problem

Somersall said it's tough to gauge how many people are without a place to sleep, many go in and out of homelessness.

"They do couch surf. Somebody lets them in one night, maybe the next night they don't have a place. It's hard to count," she said, but added it's a problem that's becoming worse. 

"In the last 10 to 15 years, the problem has become far more acute because more people are coming into the community. The population is booming and people are looking for the lowest-income housing they can find. So [they are] pushing people who are more vulnerable onto the street," Somersall said.

Stephanie Lockerby coordinates housing for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Brandon, said those living on social assistance receive $285 a month for rent but there is nothing available in Brandon at that price.

"We see people coming into the food bank everyday which is a real indicator for us. Our numbers have gone up a tremendous amount."

Over the past five years she's seen an 89 per cent increase of people using the food bank.

Many families spend 80 to 90 per cent of their incomes on rent, so a tax or rent increase, or a loss of a job means they are a paycheque away from needing to use a food bank or being homeless.

Shelter wherever it can be found

When Jandrow was on the streets, it didn't matter if it was raining or snowing — he endured blizzards with no socks — he had no choice but to fight through.

Most nights he took shelter under the Eighth Street bridge. Other spots he slept included the old fire hall and down by the tracks in the west end.

"We used to a sleep in this parking lot but they cut all the trees down, and we used to sleep up at the Keystone [Centre] but they took the elevator down so we couldn't go there anymore," he said.

Often, the only place to warm up was in the foyer of banks, where the doors were unlocked for people to access ATMs.

"I'd leave 'cause the customers complained that I spent too much time in there," he said.

Lockerby said the CMHA offers nine individual emergency dorm-style rooms but every night they're full. 

"When I have a shelter open I have to go through my list and try and figure out who's 'the most homeless.' That is the most heartbreaking thing," she said.

Just last month, she turned 38 people away.

"I've never been to Siloam Mission in Winnipeg, but I've heard about it, and I think they should have something like that," said Jandrow. "They should have something here."

Why Manitoba's second-largest city doesn't have a shelter is a question Somersall's organization has revisited for decades.

"The big thing is finding someone who has the capacity to run it. You can build a building but none of us have the capacity to staff it. We don't have dollars for that,” she said.

Somersall said the committee trying to get the shelter is in the midst of applying for grant money through non-profits. She hopes to get the shelter going soon.

She knows people need it.

Donations can be made to the Safe and Warm committee through Samaritan House.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.