Take a seat: New structures offer much-needed respite for city's homeless

Homeless Winnipeggers have a new spot where they can get off their feet and take a break thanks to a partnership between the University of Manitoba and Main Street Project.

'Dignified urban furniture' lights up Main Street strip

The above benches are called sitting portals. They give people experiencing homelessness a place to get off their feet. Shelves under the benches are for personal belongings, and the design is meant to break the wind. (Eduardo Aquino/Submitted)

New colourful structures on Main Street are giving people experiencing homelessness a place to get off their feet.

Bright orange frames in front of the Main Street Project at the corner of Main and Logan Avenue are being put to good use by clients waiting for services from the non-profit.

"I think just metaphorically and physically, we're raising people up," said Adrienne Dudek, director of transitional and supportive housing for the Main Street Project. 

She said the structures, which went up last week, are the quick result of a partnership with the University of Manitoba's faculty of architecture that fulfil a need for public seating on Main Street.

"It gives people just a place of respite to just wait for services sometimes, just to participate in community and not be on the ground, just like you and I would go to a park and sit on a bench or sit in a space. It's just a much more dignified way to be."

The structures have shelves where people can store their belongings while they sit, and the frames help break the wind.

"They are not benches, because they become, let's say, a little bit more dignified urban furniture, we can say, because they create a different sense of scale for the facade," said Eduardo Aquino, an architecture professor at the U of M.

The project is the result of a quick collaboration between the University of Manitoba's faculty of architecture and Main Street Project. (Eduardo Aquino/Submitted)

Aquino said the sitting portal structures do more than just cut the wind and add colour to the Main Street strip.

"To sit beside your fellow, and you have a conversation, is another form of getting warmth."   

20 students involved in project

He said the project is part of the school's submission to the annual warming hut competition, which sees winter structures designed and built for the river trail.

The U of M's submission challenges the meaning of a warming hut and can be used year-round. 

Aquino said a team of four professors and 20 students worked on the project in collaboration with Main Street Project, End Homelessness Winnipeg and 0812 Building Solutions.

"The idea was received with great enthusiasm." 

Dudek said the structures have already been used many times by Main Street Project clients who hang out and wait for services outside the non-profit's new building inside the old Mitchell Fabrics store. 

She said in the summer on any given night, 250 people would sleep inside the building. 

"The feedback from community has been quite positive in terms of access and how they feel when they're in the space, which is really important."

With files from Austin Grabish