City committee votes to dismantle Transcona bus shelters over concerns about drug use, safety

City council's public works committee voted Thursday to strip the glass, doors and seating from two bus shelters near Kildonan Place at the behest of the area councillor.

Taking shelters apart not the best option, but action needed, says Coun. Shawn Nason

The public works committee voted 3-1 Thursday in favour of Coun. Shawn Nason's proposal to strip down this bus shelter and one other near Kildonan Place shopping centre. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Winnipeg city council's public works committee voted Thursday to strip the glass, doors and seating from two bus shelters near Kildonan Place shopping centre at the behest of the area councillor, who has raised concerns about drug use and safety issues in the shelters.

Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason has been calling for the shelters to be stripped since January. He said the move is a last resort to ensure people struggling with addictions no longer use the bus stops instead of seeking help.

"I've been asked by the public almost daily for action. Now, this is not the action I wanted. It's the only tool we still hadn't full[ly] executed from a perspective of things we could do," Nason said following the committee's 3-1 vote.

The debate comes as Winnipeg's fire-paramedic service has seen a sharp jump in the number of calls to 911 for help at bus shelters.

The number of calls for service at shelters jumped from 1,222 in 2020 to 1,770 calls in 2021 — a 45-per-cent spike.

Earlier this year, Nason proposed, but then withdrew, a motion calling for restrictions on hoarding in public spaces, after some advocates warned it could be used against people who live in bus shelters and encampments.

At the time, he said his intent was to work with organizations working "to effect positive change on our homeless situation," including finding resources such as addictions services or housing for people using the shelters.

That proposal followed complaints from people in his ward about issues like items piling up in the shelters, discarded needles and public defecation, Nason said.

Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) said residents have been asking for action to dismantle two bus shelters near Kildonan Park almost daily. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

On Thursday, Couns. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) and Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) voted in favour of the plan to strip the two Kildonan Place shelters.

The committee chair, Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), was opposed.

Nason said the report will go to city council's executive policy committee next week, and then council as a whole on June 23.

He said he hopes the city can now move forward by connecting the people gathering in the bus shelters with better mental health and addiction supports.

Not being used as places to live: Willis

Nason's call for taking the shelters apart was backed by Marion Willis, whose St. Boniface Street Links group routinely does outreach with people experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction.

"I find myself in the uncomfortable position of supporting a motion that some or most organizations in my sector are going to reject," she said, explaining the bus shelters are being used not as places to sleep but as places to consume substances.

"People and children have become very fearful of this group, and the impact on the children is what concerns our team."

Sandra Hagenaars, general manager of Kildonan Place, said the shelters have become a persistent safety concern, with daily calls for help from the fire and paramedic service.

Garbage, including tattered clothes, black garbage bags, boxes and coffee cup lids, is strewn across a metal bench and concrete floor inside a bus shelter.
Bus shelters throughout Winnipeg, including in the Transcona neighbourhood, have routinely been used by homeless people throughout the pandemic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The Main Street Project, however, said in a statement sent Thursday evening that it opposed the move, and called on city council to reject the plan.

The social services agency says there are other approaches to dealing with the issue.

"Any formal actions that impact people living unsheltered should be taken with a human rights-based approach," Main Street Project's statement said.

It also said that because Winnipeg has no supervised consumption sites, "people using substances will inevitably use in public sheltered spaces."

"Eliminating one or two bus shelters will not address this issue," Main Street Project said. "The solution to homelessness is housing."