Advocates call on Winnipeg mayor to cancel plans to dismantle homeless camps

A group of advocates for the homeless are calling on the city to cancel plans to hire a contractor to dismantle tent cities over the summer.

'You can't displace people that are already displaced,' says Mama Bear Clan co-ordinator

A man sits outside a restaurant on Maryland Street in Winnipeg in May. The city has issued a request for proposals, seeking a contractor to remove what it referred to as 'bulky waste' that makes up 'temporary homeless shelters.' (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

A group of advocates for the homeless in Winnipeg are calling on the city to cancel plans to hire a contractor to dismantle tent cities over the summer.

"I think it's ridiculous. You can't displace people that are already displaced," said Alexa Legere, co-ordinator of the Mama Bear Clan, a patrol group that helps vulnerable people in Point Douglas.

An open letter to the city and a petition with more than 700 signatures calling on the city to change its plans will be presented at a meeting with Mayor Brian Bowman on June 25, Legere said.

In May, the city issued a request for proposals on the City of Winnipeg website, looking for a contractor to take on a job that would include discarding "bulky waste" that makes up "temporary homeless shelters," such as mattresses, tarps, shopping carts and garbage.

The contractor would also be responsible for collecting and disposing of "biohazardous" waste like needles and condoms, the request for proposals said.

City reviewing proposals

In an email to CBC, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said the deadline for submissions for the request for proposals has closed, and the city is currently in the process of reviewing proposals.

The city previously told CBC News the request for proposals was issued after an increase in calls to 311 about needles and sharps.

"The [request for proposals] made it seem that [homeless] people were connected to the garbage and waste, which is not the case," said Legere. "Not everybody that is homeless are using [drugs] or littering."

In terms of removing shelters used by homeless people, the city will take "all reasonable care" to protect the health and safety of people living in the shelters, city spokesperson Ken Allen told CBC last month.

Legere said removing the camps can do more harm than good, and the city should instead focus on finding solutions to help those living on the streets.

"These are people's homes," she said.

"It's going to be more traumatizing for them.… They're going to take everything and throw it out, and then these people have to start from scratch?"

Alexa Legere, co-ordinator for Mama Bear Clan in Winnipeg plans to meet with Mayor Brian Bowman on June 25 to discuss concerns over the city's plan to dismantle homeless camps over the summer. (Submitted by Alexa Legere)

Legere said more than a dozen agencies in the city, including the Main Street Project, have signed the open letter calling for the cancellation of the request for proposals and further consultation with stakeholders to develop a plan for homeless people.

"Systemically we have a lot of issues to tackle in this province that would contribute to actually making a footprint on ending homelessness," said Adrienne Dudek, Main Street Project's director of transitional housing.

"We want to create non-judgmental services and a welcoming environment," Dudek said. 

"But until we look at those larger issues … we're just not going to make any headway." 

Legere said she received an email from the mayor's office accepting their request to meet with Bowman next week, and she's looking forward to raising her concerns and sharing ideas with the mayor.

She said a group of concerned citizens will join her at the meeting, including Point Douglas resident Sharon Johnson, who started the petition following a protest last month at city hall.

The mayor's office has confirmed with CBC that a meeting has been scheduled with the group on June 25.

Siloam Mission, a homeless shelter with 110 beds, said it has not signed the petition.

"We haven't signed anything, we haven't taken a position on this yet," said communications manager Luke Thiessen.

"It is something we are watching very closely because, of course, we work with many of those agencies."

While people will sometimes camp in temporary shelters near Siloam, Thiessen said, "the reality for us is that for the most part, those who are staying in these tent cities and choosing to stay outside are generally not part of the community we are serving, so in many cases they are not known to us."

He added Siloam's doors are always open to those who need shelter.