Transient homeless camp brings drugs, petty crime to West Broadway businesses, owners say

Business owners in Winnipeg's West Broadway neighbourhood are becoming increasingly frustrated with a transient homeless camp located around Maryland Street and Portage Avenue.

Neighbourhood looking for fixes, but officials say that's as easy as solving poverty, addiction

Homeless people have been living outside a Winnipeg Tim Hortons and in a back lane outside the coffee shop. (Submitted)

Business owners in Winnipeg's West Broadway neighbourhood are becoming increasingly frustrated with a transient homeless camp located around Maryland Street and Portage Avenue.

A business owner who wants to remain anonymous complained in a letter sent to the CBC that homeless people living at the back of his parking lot have scared away his customers, vandalized his property and made a mess by using drugs in his store bathroom, prompting him to spend nearly $40,000 to hire security. 

"I need your help," the owner wrote. "I am very frustrated.… Why are politicians, community police and government scared to handle these panhandlers and homeless issues? If we can find the resources to help all the refugees coming into Manitoba, why not our own people who are on the street?" 

The area around the corner of Maryland and Portage includes businesses such as McDonald's, Tim Hortons, Rexall and Palatal Express, all of which have parking lots that have become a hot spot for makeshift homes.

Another business owner said he has faced the same problem since summer.

"We have issues every year," he said. "This year was really bad … [with] damages to property." 

Staff and managers from various businesses also said they discovered people using drugs in their bathrooms and stealing their power. 

Moving on

Jawn Kawner has been camping in the West Broadway area for six months. He slept outside a medical clinic on Broadway and Sherbrook Sunday night, but Monday morning, police told him and others to leave. 

So now, he's packing-up. "It's nothing personal, right? People have to take care of their businesses," he said.

Madeline Hudson from the Medigas Wellness clinic said she called the police Monday morning, even though she didn't want to. 

"They have set up a tent in front of our electrical room, which restricts our access to our electrical panel, where our water and sewer hook up, so that's an issue," she said. 

Kawner says he stayed in the area because it is familiar to him, but now he's thinking about traveling to British Columbia to escape the harsh Winnipeg winter.

'Acting out in obnoxious ways'

"It's really become an area of deep concern over the past 18 months," said Greg MacPherson, executive director of the West Broadway Community Organization, who thinks a big factor is crystal meth.

He said there's been a lot of petty crime in the area, such as bikes being stolen, and erratic behaviour from drug users.

West Broadway businesses fed up with homeless camp

5 years ago
Duration 2:17
Some business owners are frustrated with a large number of homeless people camped out in West Broadway.

"People are acting out in sort of obnoxious ways."

Businesses have installed electronic locks on their bathrooms and there's an increased police presence in the area. Some owners also changed the colour of their washroom light bulbs so drug users have a harder time using them as injection sites. 

Police want long-term solution

"Winter's coming. This is not a sustainable thing for anybody," said Winnipeg police Const. Rob Carver.

The homeless encampment has moved locations on Maryland a few times recently and police are actively working on resolving the issue, he said.

The problem is that it's a complex social issue, Carver said, so police are working to build relationships with individuals first. While they let them know they're on private property, that's where police stop, for now.

"We'd like a long-term solution," Carver said.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy said while she's not the councillor for the area, her ward is close to it, and because of that she's been in touch with community support groups, trying to work toward finding a solution.

Business cuts plug to Wi-Fi to stop loiterers 

Gilroy said small fixes like playing music outside and putting passwords on Wi-Fi have been effective in reducing loiterers in other cities and she's suggested this to business owners in that area.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy suggested as a short-term solution businesses play music outside and add passwords to their Wi-Fi to deter loiters. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

But Gilroy said it's important to remember the people camped outside are members of the community too. 

"This is their home," she said. 

She and MacPherson both agree there's not one issue causing an increase in problems in the area, but rather a combination of things such as mental illness, drugs and poverty.

"The root causes of what we're seeing, I think, are obviously much more difficult to deal with than just passing a panhandling bylaw or rounding people up when it's cold at night, or locking your bathroom, or changing the bulb," MacPherson said.

Still, MacPherson understands frustrations from business owners who want loiterers to leave.

"It can be, I'm sure, extremely challenging to see other vulnerable residents sleeping outside, using the bathroom outside, coming into your business in various states of disarray," he said. 

MacPherson said the West Broadway Community Organization has recently hired a safety outreach employee and is working to get the Bear Clan Patrol in the area.

With files from Samantha Samson, Peggy Lam