Manitoba earmarks $3.6M for partnership working toward 'safer, healthier' downtown: premier

The Manitoba government is providing a multimillion-dollar grant to a group committed to building a "safer, healthier and a more welcoming downtown Winnipeg," Premier Heather Stefanson says, while also upping supports for addictions and overdose-related services.

Addictions, overdose supports receive another $615K for expanded naloxone access, recovery services

Members of the Downtown Community Safety Partnership walk around downtown Winnipeg in 2021. Three teams that make up the DCSP provide safe walks, wellness checks and first aid, and also connect people with social services. (James Turner)

The Manitoba government is providing a multimillion-dollar grant to a group committed to building a "safer, healthier and a more welcoming downtown Winnipeg," Premier Heather Stefanson says, while also upping supports for addictions and overdose-related services.

The Downtown Community Safety Partnership will receive a $3.6-million grant, the province announced Tuesday.

The partnership — a collaboration between the City of Winnipeg, True North Sports and Entertainment, the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, Winnipeg police and other stakeholders — provides social and health services.

That includes 24/7 support and non-emergency responses, as well as prevention and outreach for people on the street and those struggling with addictions and mental health issues.

The province also said Tuesday the non-profit St. Boniface Street Links will get $215,000 to operate its mobile outreach van, and Manitoba will also spend an additional $410,000 on increasing access to the opioid-overdose antidote naloxone.

"What used to be less obvious can now be seen everywhere you look, and it's no longer isolated to our downtown," said Mark Chipman, chairman of the downtown partnership and CEO of True North Sports & Entertainment, at a Tuesday news conference.

"It's gone long past just being heartbreaking: it's become, in my humble opinion, a humanitarian crisis."

The province also announced $175,000 from the proceeds of crime will be put toward the safety partnership's purchase of an accessible van that can be used for transporting people with disabilities to shelters and appointments.

Downtown Community Safety Partnership executive director Greg Burnett says the provincial investment will be enough to cover operating costs over the next year. (CBC)

The downtown safety partnership, founded in 2020 with $5 million from the province and modelled on an initiative in Minneapolis, now has 55 staff, including 47 full-time employees, said Greg Burnett, DCSP executive director. 

Burnett said the new funds will help the group continue its proactive harm reduction approaches to complex social issues for another year. That includes bolstering three front-line patrol groups.

Houselessness, poverty, addictions and mental health issues all contribute to dynamics downtown that "often make people feel unsafe," said Burnett, "but especially those who are already fighting through those challenges. Their safety has to be paramount as well."

He said in the past 2½ years, the partnership has gone from 42 referrals per month to 200. There's also been a more than 200 per cent increase in the number of calls from the public and other organizations requesting its services, he said.

Manitoba Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said DCSP has provided support in or attended 18,000 calls to 911 since 2020. 

About half the calls funnelled to the downtown safety group have been wellness checks and other non-emergencies, said Goertzen.

That frees up law enforcement to focus on crime prevention and emergency calls "that really do need law enforcement officers," he said at Tuesday's funding announcement.

Expanding naloxone access

Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard also announced expanded access to free naloxone thanks to $210,000 funding, bringing the provincial commitment this year for the opioid overdose drug to $760,000. 

The province has also earmarked $200,000 for a pilot project for Narcan, an intranasal version of naloxone, which will be available at some pharmacies in Manitoba at a reduced price. The Narcan kits will cost $30 each, compared to typical pricing in the $165-$215 range.

Manitoba is also giving $215,000 in funding to St. Boniface Street Links' mobile project Outreach and Supportive Intervention for People Who Use Substances, or OASIS, to support about 80 people who are homeless and struggling with substance use issues.

St. Boniface Street Links founder Marion Willis suggested drug misuse is the root cause of many of the social issues that affect people in the core. (CBC)

Marion Willis, the founder of Street Links, said much of the focus needs to be on the root cause of social issues like homelessness.

"It really is the drug crisis," Willis said at the announcement.

"If we could really just put a lot of resources into addressing this drug crisis, we are also going to address homelessness, we're going to really impact crime rates in this city. All of these issues are all interrelated."

Gillingham backs investments

The funding announcements come one day after the province announced more supports for agencies working with homeless people.

Scott Gillingham, who will officially be sworn in as Winnipeg's mayor Tuesday night, pledged to address crime and downtown safety before he was elected last week, with a commitment to providing permanent funding for the safety partnership in the city's next four-year budget plan.

"The Downtown Community Safety Partnership is playing a critical role in helping our downtown recover from the impacts of the pandemic, and even more importantly, helping vulnerable individuals connect with much-needed supports," Gillingham said at the news conference.

"By working together we can ensure that our streets are safer, people are getting help and those that are struggling can get the assistance that they need, and in turn this will encourage more people to spend time in the downtown."

Homelessness street censuses have in recent years suggested up to 1,500 people in the city experienced varying degrees of homelessness.

"If a society is really measured by the way in which it treats its most vulnerable, then we are obligated to step in where we can and try to be part of the solution," Chipman said.

"This is our community and everyone that calls it home deserves to be safe, to be treated with dignity and to be directed to the resources that they require. That is our mission."


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.