Homelessness is killing people in our city: What have you done to help?
We need action. We have come together today, as a human rights advocate and an inner city helper, to send a message to all citizens of our community as we near the end of 2016, which Winnipeg declared the Year of Reconciliation.
Indigenous rights awareness has risen and the city is home to a new museum for human rights, but many of our citizens are literally dying on the streets, often guilty of nothing other than a life in poverty or being Indigenous. Many of these people have been sentenced to death by the gaps in supports designed to be available to our most vulnerable.
Homelessness is killing people in our city. Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services."
The denial of services is a violation of this declaration, a fundamental human rights document. According to the Winnipeg Street Census, 80 per cent of the homeless people in Winnipeg are First Nations, Métis or Inuit and 80 per cent are products of the child welfare system.
Just this weekend as temperatures dipped to -32 C, a 53-year-old woman froze to death in front of a downtown mall. This is not the first time in our city's recent history that someone has died outside on the winter streets. What kind of city do we want to live in? Who are we, Winnipeg?
Such complicated challenges will not be solved with Band-Aid actions or photo ops. The solutions have to be tangible, measurable and accessible to many sectors of those in need and their helpers. Here are some of our thoughts:
- The public and private sector possess lots of infrastructure in the form of buildings and spaces in the core of our city. What if malls, coffee shops, libraries or other buildings offered their spaces at night to those in need so that no one freezes on the street?
- Attitudes, language and behaviours need to change. With the building of the human rights museum in our city, what if a homeless person attempts to sleep inside? What will the response and attitude of the museum be? Are there historical human rights awareness and cultural sensitivities that must be imparted? What if we begin referring to those who are homeless instead as "our relatives on the street"?
- People who have experienced the problems we are working on must be involved in a meaningful way when solutions are being created. For initiatives like End Homelessness Winnipeg, this means creating working groups and asking various sectors for advice. We hope that these circles also include people living in those difficult experiences and compensate them fairly for their valuable contributions as policy-makers instead of policy takers, including providing them with relevant services as needed. Where is the voice of the homeless?
What have you done to reach out? Have you donated to one of the support services or gone out to help? Have you advocated for improved policy changes or championed the inclusion of those living with these challenges? There are so many ways to help, and we literally need everyone. The lives of our relatives on the street depend on it.
Michael Redhead Champagne is an organizer in Winnipeg's inner city with AYO (Aboriginal Youth Opportunities!) and wrote this article in collaboration with Ahmad Moussa, a human rights advocate and board member of the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties.