Charities push for more affordable housing as province looks to rethink its approach

More than 37,000 stayed at Siloam Mission last year, a number the head of the Winnipeg homeless shelter says is a clear indication of the dire need for more affordable housing in the province.

Manitoba's housing strategy is getting a makeover for the first time in six years

Charities are pushing for more affordable housing. (Shutterstock)

The head of Siloam Mission says people on the street "deteriorate day by day" without a proper place to stay and a focus on homelessness should be a part of a revamped Manitoba's housing strategy. 

More than 37,000 stayed at the mission's shelter last year.

Floyd Perras, Siloam Mission's executive director, spoke about the issue at a Thursday meeting where the Progressive Conservative government invited community organizations to brainstorm about Manitoba's housing strategy.

"Last night we turned away 25 people from our shelter," said Perras. "Every time we serve a meal, we have about 300 people standing on the street three times a day in whatever weather … so it's a very critical issue."

Siloam Mission's Floyd Perras says they turn people away from their shelter every night. (Gary Solilak CBC News )
Perras says adding new shelter beds and new housing units is critical to a new housing strategy, but also wants to offer mental health and addictions services and other support to people who need a place to live.

The provincial government is holding consultations with various groups across Manitoba in an effort to revamp Manitoba's efforts on housing and homelessness. 

Minister Scott Fielding is heading to Ottawa next week to meet with his provincial counterparts and the federal minister. The federal government is expected to launch an national housing strategy in the coming months.

"I would encourage him to try an ensure that every dollar that is available from the federal government be brought back to Manitoba to provide affordable supportive housing," Perras said.

Homelessness and a lack of an affordable place to live has been identified as a major contributor to poverty, crime and an additional challenge to people coping with mental health issues.

A census by a local non-profit done last year on a single night in October found that at least 1,727 people were experiencing homelessness.

Fielding says there is a chance to sign agreements with the federal government adding up to tens of millions of dollars in new money for Manitoba housing, some direct funding and some cost-shared programs. He committed to get as much of the federal money as possible.

"We think housing is a priority in the province here and we are going to sign agreements with the federal government, partnerships, on a number of areas," Fielding told reporters. "Some areas have been dictated to us in terms of where the money should be spent."

Fielding says the province is looking for a "made-in-Manitoba solution" to improve outcomes for the most vulnerable.

At the consultations, there were numerous ideas put forward to cope with the complicated and costly problem of housing. Fielding says there is a half billion dollar deficit in Manitoba for maintenance and repair.

The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit that hopes to help, builds between 20 and 25 homes a year. Clients provide sweat-equity in return for a no-money down, interest-free mortgage on a home of their own.

Currently, the province funds up to $50,000 for each new house, but Habitat for Humanity Manitoba's CEO Sandy Hopkins says a boost to that funding would help.

Habitat for Humanity CEO Sandy Hopkins says an increase in provincial funding will mean more people in their own homes. (CBC News )
"Our program has demonstrated that it is able to lift people from poverty and into the middle class," Hopkins said.

Habitat would like to offer more families the chance to have their own home and build equity for the future.

"What we are saying to the province is while home ownership is not for everyone, it is for far more people than are currently eligible to receive it," Hopkins told CBC News.

The consultations for a new Manitoba housing strategy have visited several communities and will still make stops in rural towns such as The Pas and Morden.