Homelessness grows in Winnipeg, report says

A new report by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg shows there are too many people sleeping outdoors in this city.
A new report by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg shows a marked increase of people sleeping outdoors in the city. 2:11

A new report by the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg shows a marked increase of people sleeping outdoors in this city.

The study states that nearly 28,000 people live in inadequate housing in the city core and on any given night, 353 Winnipeggers sleep in shelters.

It also says an unknown number of people sleep outdoors, in cars, abandoned buildings, or public locations like the airport.

"The sort of typical way we imagine homelessness is someone on the street or someone staying in an emergency shelter," said Christina Maes, a program and policy analyst with SPCW.

"There are too many people in those situations but there are even more people in other situations that we need to support."

With so many people experiencing homelessness in some form, there is clearly a social problem that is not being adequately addressed in Winnipeg, said Maes.

"I don't think Winnipeggers realize how many people are affected by the lack of available housing and the dire circumstances they face because of it," she said.

"Because the public doesn't know, they're not getting angry. But frankly we should be angry."

'Awful feeling inside'

Shirley Sanderson, 51, who has been homeless for three years said not having a place to go is "an awful feeling inside, like your heart is broken because it feels like people don't care about you."

Some nights she crashes with friends and others she stays at a shelter, if she's lucky enough to get a bed.

"A few nights I had nowhere to go and walked the streets until broad daylight," she said.

"Last Summer I slept in the park, a few times in an abandoned truck, and in behind an industrial building in St. James.

Maes said the council used a measurement that records the number of nights shelter beds are occupied.

"So, 142,000 beds in emergency shelters had someone sleeping on them, and that's huge," she said.

According to the study, that's up by nearly 20,000 since 2008.

Unified strategy

While a lot of groups work to combat homelessness in the city, what's needed is a unified strategy, Maes said.

"We need a plan involving the municial government, the provincial government, the federal government, and of course, the community," she said, citing Calgary's 10-year stategy to end homlessness as a model for Winnipeg to follow.

Maes said the report contains many numbers it hopes shocks Winnipeggers into action. One of those is that, even though city shelters are filled to capacity, only 13 per cent of the people who use them are women.

Marianne Cerelli, who helps homeless women find housing, said most women couch surf or crash with friends and family. She said women with children tend to avoid shelters because they fear Child and Family Services will take away their children.

Cerelli hopes the report alerts Winnipeggers to a worsening affordable housing crisis in the city.