Welfare groups talk solutions for 'complicated knot' of issues around tent cities, addiction, homelessness

Members from the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Community Homeless Assistance Team gave a presentation Thursday about some of the biggest issues they encounter while patrolling the streets of downtown.

Downtown BIZ outreach group hosts meeting to find ways to help city’s most vulnerable

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Community Homeless Assistance Team works to connect vulnerable people with social services. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The issues affecting homeless people living in tents in Winnipeg aren't new, but they are moving out into the open — and it will take the efforts of social services agencies working together to address them.

Those were some of the messages Thursday as outreach workers with the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone held their annual meeting, bringing social service agencies together to talk about homelessness, panhandling and addictions in Winnipeg's downtown.

Members from the Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT) gave a presentation about some of the biggest issues they encounter while patrolling the streets of downtown.

"We look for people who are in trouble, who are homeless, who are marginalized, people who are at risk, and we help connect them to the services that they need," said CHAT outreach worker Taggart Porter.
A tent city on the lawn of the All Saints' Anglican Church in West Broadway in May. (Elisha Dacey/CBC)

"It's important then that we are working in-step with all those other agencies, because our job is mainly to get [homeless people] connected to those agencies and help them access the services they need," he said.

This spring, a homeless camp set up on the lawn of a West Broadway church for several weeks, bringing some of the issues the CHAT team faces out into the open.

The camp saw as many as 40 people living in tents and makeshift shelters on the lawn of All Saints' Anglican Church.

CBC News saw dozens of discarded needles being collected from the site and questions about public safety were raised.

Evidence of drug use, like this needle, could be found at the homeless camp at All Saints'. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

That camp was dismantled at the end of May, and a similar camp was spotted near the Red River in Lagimodière-Gaboury Park this past weekend.

Winnipeg police say that camp has also been removed and the police service will continue to check the area.

Building relationships

The networking event, called Heart and SOLES, for Street Outreach Liaison Event, invited people from multiple social welfare agencies, including addictions workers, health-care professionals and staff from local shelters.

Porter said the goal of the event is to build relationships and make sure each agency knows what role they can play in helping people who live on the streets.

"Anything that we can do to keep us all on the same page and working together towards the same ends would be fantastic," he said.
Taggart Porter is a CHAT outreach worker. He said having social service agencies come together helps them find better ways to tackle issues surrounding homelessness. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Porter said the issues around homelessness are complex and often involve addiction and mental health issues, as well as economic barriers which no one agency or solution can solve.

"That's a very, very complicated knot and the only way to deal with that is one person at a time to untangle those things," he said.

The CHAT team works to bring people to the services they need, but Porter said he'd like to see agencies reaching out to those in need as well.

Part of the event's program included a tour of some of the trouble spots in the downtown to show participants the places where people on the street are living or using drugs.

Shelters not the only option

Vanessa Gamblin, the manager of the drop-in and shelter at Siloam Mission, was at the Thursday meeting.

She came to the event with some of the shelter staff to learn more about how agencies can work together and get a clearer picture of the different roles of other agencies.

"The city is just learning now that we need to do much better at connecting our resources together to ensure efficiency across the board," said Gamblin.
Vanessa Gamblin with Siloam Mission says it's important that agencies work together to help address the needs of the city's homeless. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Gamblin said the issue of people living in tents isn't new, but was well hidden before. She says it's now moving out into the open.

"They're pushing themselves [out in the open] to state, 'Hey we are alive, we are humans too, please see us,'" she said.

Gamblin also says the issue of tent cities has become more prevalent with increase of meth use in Winnipeg.
These carts filled with clothing and household items could be seen along the Red River in Lagimodière-Gaboury Park in St. Boniface on Monday. The camp has since been removed and cleaned up. (CBC)

"Since meth has creeped into our city more significantly, we have drastically seen an increase with tents," she said.

Gamblin acknowledged that many people choosing to live in tents don't want to access shelters like Siloam for various reasons.

She said people have unique needs and it's important to recognize that not every approach works in every situation.

"The beauty of having different programs and approaches is what's needed. We need a collective action."