Housing in southwestern Manitoba at crisis point, advocates say
'Nowhere to send people' with transitional housing desperately needed: Harm Reduction Network co-ordinator
After nearly a year of living unhoused in southwestern Manitoba, Murray Mauws is moving into a new place.
Mauws, 66, was at Brandon's Blue Door Project, a drop-in shelter in the city, on Tuesday, where he was waiting to pick up the keys to his new home.
Having a roof over his head offers a feeling of safety after 11 months of bouncing between friends' homes and staying at Brandon's Samaritan House Ministries' Safe and Warm Shelter, he says.
"I just want to get in and get started. I want to start my life over."
Mauws lost his house in a fire in December 2021. The almost year-long experience since was the second time he's lived without a home.
Through social service agencies like Brandon Housing First and Seventh Street Access, he got "the little boost" he needed to once again get shelter and necessities like a bed to sleep in and food for his fridge, Mauws said.
"I'm too old to be in the streets," he said. "Nobody deserves to be in the streets."
A Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation vulnerability index study of 291 people accessing agencies across the city from August 2019 to September 2022 shows Mauws is not alone — 45 per cent of participants indicated they hadn't had permanent, stable housing in 12 months or more.
The wait for housing in the city hit a crisis point after the closure of YWCA's Meredith Place transitional housing space in May, said Danielle Zalusky, a case manager with Brandon Housing First, a program co-ordinated by the Manitoba Métis Federation that works to help chronically homeless people transition into a permanent home.
It's hard for people dealing with substance use or addiction to get off the street, Zalusky said, if there's a lack of transitional housing — temporary accommodation meant to bridge the gap from homelessness to permanent housing by offering not just shelter, but support in addiction recovery, mental health or other needs.
Being without a home for months or even years becomes a barrier to finding permanent housing, Zalusky said.
"To transition … off the streets, you can't just be homeless for a year and not have anything to your name, then someone just hands you a set of keys," she said. "It's not as easy as that."
Mauws said while he was homeless, he was committed to finding safe housing and connected with multiple agencies, including Brandon Housing First.
He has experienced addiction, including methamphetamine use, he said, and is now in recovery after spending time in detox in April and attending the Crisis Centre and Addictions Foundation Manitoba.
However, he still had to wait several months for housing. During that time, his personal items were stolen and his health began to decline, leading to a stay in hospital.
"I kind of was stuck," said Mauws.
Now, "I have to start all over again," he said, but "there's more to me than my drug addiction right now."
Housing needed in Brandon
Solange Machado, a co-ordinator in Brandon with the Manitoba Harm Reduction Network, said substance use and homelessness are often intertwined.
"It's a lot more challenging for people who disclosed that they're using substances to get housing because of the stereotypes and stigma," which makes transitional housing essential, she said.
The Brandon renewal corporation's study found 45 per cent of its respondents reported losing housing due to alcohol or drugs.
Brandon has a non-medicated detox centre, but there's currently about a three-month wait list, Machado said.
Even for those who can get in, detox does not guarantee housing.
"There's nowhere to send people, which I think is the part where a lot of housing agencies are stuck," said Machado. "It puts everyone in a bad place."
The closure of Meredith's Place left a gap, says YWCA president and board chair Candice Waddell-Henowitch, because there are no similar facilities in Brandon.
The organization is working with partners in the city to support people experiencing homelessness and address the growing housing crisis in the city, Waddell-Henowitch said.
"We're definitely committed to being part of the solution and working with the city and the community partners," she said, and the YWCA hopes to have some plans in place in the coming year.
The Canadian Mental Health Association and the Brandon Friendship Centre have some housing available in the Massey Manor apartment complex, including five self-contained emergency units, eight supportive housing units, eight transitional housing units and 23 affordable housing units.
But finding more housing will take community partnerships and working to ensure people have access to resources they need in the community, says the co-ordinator for Brandon's Community Mobilization Westman, a network of social service providers.
Janis Irvine says the city faces a housing and shelter crisis that affects individuals and families across the city.
Collaborations to address that must include both front-line workers and people who are homeless, in order to understand what housing models will best serve the area.
"I honestly think that the solutions are there, but we're not asking the right people," Irvine said. "The folks that need to be housed, those are the ones that we have to think about."