Plans for Winnipeg hoarding task force move forward at city hall

A plan is moving ahead to create a task force, led by Winnipeg’s fire paramedic service, to deal with hoarding in public spaces.

Advocates concerned it could punish those experiencing homelessness

Winnipeg city councillors have asked staff to come up with a plan for how a hoarding task force would work. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A plan is moving ahead to create a task force, led by Winnipeg's fire paramedic service, to deal with hoarding in public spaces.

The motion, brought forward by Coun. Shawn Nason, calls for the creation of a task force to address hoarding and collecting behaviours in public and private spaces that are "sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed." 

Winnipeg's protection and parks committee approved a motion Monday asking city staff to come back in 90 days with a report on how the task force might work.

But there were some advocates opposed to the plan. Jacob Kauffman with the Main Street Project told councillors he was concerned the task force would give city staff the ability to throw out vulnerable people's belongings and would do more harm than good. 

"If this passes the way it is now, it's just going to be another way to put our boots on the throats of people who are less fortunate," he said. 

Kris Clemens with Kíkinanaw Óma Strategy to Support Unsheltered Winnipeggers expressed similar concerns, adding that community groups would be better suited to address the issue. 

"There is absolutely no need for a city-mandated task force, which risks wasting valuable time and resources while also potentially undermining the city's established commitment to a rights-based approach for unsheltered homelessness," she said.

Winnipeg Transit and Downtown Biz crews use a front-end loader to clean out a bus shelter on Portage Avenue in January 2021. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

However, councillors also heard from Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, which said firefighters and paramedics already work with people grappling with hoarding and other mental health issues through its risk referral program. 

Through that program, WFPS staff help connect people with social services beyond working with the city's bylaw enforcement and fire prevention teams to address safety issues, said WFPS Chief Christian Schmidt.

Earlier this year, Nason brought forward a motion to have city staff enforce restrictions against hoarding in public areas like transit shelters and encampments.

He later withdrew it after homelessness and mental health advocates said it was too vague and could be used against people who have nowhere else to live or store their belongings.

On Monday, he said the goal is to help people, not punish them. 

"Having a task force of people with a community focus will lend itself to a healthier environment for all those affected by this," he said. 

The motion passed, with an amendment that the task force involve input from those with lived experience of hoarding.