Aggressive panhandling, addictions and homelessness were thrust into the media last weekend when a rant by Gord Steeve's wife Lorrie surfaced on Facebook. Homelessness advocates are now saying this is an opportunity to make homelessness an election issue.
Joseph Tulloch is one of Agape Table’s most dedicated volunteers, a centre for the homeless in downtown Winnipeg.
“I am here because I like helping the people,” said Tulloch. “I am homeless myself, and I just like to be there for the people as much as I can.
Tulloch said he's upset over comments made on Facebook by mayoral candidate Gord Steeves’ wife Lorrie.
And while he’s never participated in a civic election before, Tulloch said he has had a change of heart.
“I am going to vote now,” said Tulloch. “I don’t like the racist, nobody should be racist in the city.”
Martina Richter, Executive Director at Agape Table, said everyone deserves respect — from the homeless to Lorrie Steeves.
“Don’t debate on ‘oh, it was a right comment, it was a wrong comment,’” said Richter. “Someone needs our help, so what can we do about it? What can we do going forward.”
Should homelessness be a major campaign issue?
A window has been opened in the aftermath of Lorrie Steeves comments for mayoral candidates to make homelessness a serious election issue.
Beverly Burkard Roberts runs Red Road Lodge, an organization that provides affordable, transitional housing.
Burkard said it’s one thing to be able to provide short-term housing, but keeping people housed indefinitely is a whole other challenge.
“We need more services, and really that’s what it comes right down to,” said Burkard.
Burkard said investing more into services like counselling to that help the homeless work on issues which put them on the street in the first place is crucial.
But that requires more funding to keep qualified people on staff in counselling positions, Burkard said.
“Why are we making it so difficult for non-profits to do the work that inherently needs to be done? And why is it the non-profits, and not actually the work that needs to be done at a civic provincial and federal level?”
Burkard hopes those making a bid for mayor will pay homelessness the attention it deserves and provide real strategies for voters to consider.
She also hopes candidates learn from the Lorrie Steeves Facebook comment scandal and do more than just rant on social media about issues facing downtown Winnipeg.