The United Way unveiled a new plan Tuesday morning to end homelessness in Winnipeg.

The report recommends streamlining services for people living on the street.

On any given night in Winnipeg approximately:

  • 350 people stay in one of the city’s homeless shelters
  • 700-1000 people stay in single room occupancy hotels
  • 1,400 people stay with relatives, friends or acquaintances or in some form of temporary accommodation. (Main Street Project, 2011)

The United Way's proposed “one-stop drop-in centre” for people living on the street would help expedite and co-ordinate efforts to help those living on the street.

Chad Bertrand is homeless. He came to Winnipeg to start a new life, but ended up living on the streets for a year.

"My wife passed away and I really didn't know how to handle that,” said Bertrand. “She was my whole life."

Bertrand spoke about how frustrating it can be having to retell his story.

"It's kind of irritating after a while ’cause you gotta say the same thing and then it feels like you're lying," said Bertrand.

The United Way's plan would make it so people like Bertrand would only have to tell their story once.

Floyd Perras, executive director with Siloam Mission, applauded the announcement.

"The idea of a one-point contact is that somebody doesn't have to tell this story four or five times to get services," said Perras.

hi-homeless

The United Way released a plan Tuesday to end homelessness in Winnipeg over the next decade. (CBC)

Right now there are three main shelters in the city that help the homeless: the Salvation Army Winnipeg Booth Centre, Siloam Mission and the Main Street Project.

A spokesperson for the United Way said the aim of the new program is to better keep track of Winnipeg’s number of homeless people.

Right now, the United Way reports there is a lack of data on homelessness in the city, because many of Winnipeg's shelters don't keep records of those who use their services.

Recommendations

In order to make up for this lack of data, one aspect of the plan would involve carrying out an annual census of Winnipeg’s homeless population in hopes of better understanding the demands of those using services.

An organization known as the Community Task Force to End Homelessness (CTFEH) was formed in 2012 to help solve the city's homelessness problems.

Made up of representatives from the private, public and not-for-profit communities — mainly from the United Way of Winnipeg — the CTFEH and the United Way's strategic plan would strive to end homelessness over the next decade.

"We need to move from managing homelessness to ending it," stated Rob Johnston, Regional President of the Royal Bank of Canada.

Johnston co-chairs the Community Task Force to End Homelessness with Cindy Coker of SEED Winnipeg Inc. At the conference they outlined a series of key points needing to be addressed for the program to be successful.

Recommendations include forming an organization that would work with existing shelters to support people living on the street and those at-risk of being homeless.

The plan also sets out a number of short-term performance targets to be reached by 2016/2017 that include reducing the amount of shelter users and people living on Winnipeg streets by 20 per cent. 

The report proposed reducing the number of homeless as a percentage of Winnipeg's total population by 10 per cent per year, as well a recommendation to build 300 affordable housing units within the first five years.

Manitoba Housing Minister Peter Bjornson at the unveiling of the homelessness strategy

Minister of Housing and Community Development Peter Bjornson at the unveiling of the homelessness strategy at United Way of Winnipeg

Impact on existing shelters uncertain

"You know we have a sense that there's 2,000 to 2,500 people that are homeless every year, but we know that there's 1,200 unique individuals that come through our shelter every year," said Perras. "But we don't know how many of those are also going to Salvation Army or to Main Street Project." 

Perras said it's still not clear how the new centre will directly impact work flow at Siloam Mission.

"I still think that needs to be figured out and how that will work," said Perras.

The task force co-chair said it is still too early to say where the new centre would go, how much it would cost — or how all the shelters will work together.

"Some of that work will happen from the co-ordinated location, but we'll be able to touch and connect with people through many of the existing organizations that do good work today," said Rob Johnston.

'Housing first'

The plan also suggests adopting the "housing first" model, something that has proven effective in other cities according to the United Way. 

The housing first model prioritizes getting homeless people off the streets, or out of homeless shelters, and directly into their own homes, rather than focusing on putting them through various levels of treatment first.

Peter Bjornson, Minister for Housing and Community Development, said all levels of government need to work together with local businesses and community organizations to end homelessness.

"This new action plan will help guide us as we apply the lessons of the Housing First model toward providing more safe, affordable homes to vulnerable homeless Manitobans," said Bjornson.

More than 80 people were present for Tuesday's announcement.