Manitoba

Manitoba government to spend over $800K on self-isolation units for homeless, meals for Manitobans isolating

The self-isolation site has been operating at 80 to 100 per cent capacity. On Tuesday, only half the beds at the site were occupied, but that number fluctuates depending on demand, Squires said.

$468K is earmarked for isolation units for people who are homeless who tested positive for COVID-19

Rochelle Squires, Manitoba families minister, will announce new COVID-19 measures as public health officials announce 83 new cases of the illness Tuesday. (Radio-Canada)

Manitoba Families will be spending over $800,000 combined to add capacity at COVID-19 isolation units for people who are homeless in Winnipeg, and to provide meals to low-income Manitobans who are self-isolating without kitchen access, Families Minister Rochelle Squires announced Tuesday.

"Our government is working hard to ensure that no one falls through the cracks, as we face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic together," Squires said during a news conference.

The province will spend an extra $468,000 for isolation units designated for people who are homeless and tested positive for COVID-19, which are operated by Main Street Project in Winnipeg. The Manitoba government had already spent $1.6 million to help create the site's isolation units.

The self-isolation site has been operating at 80 to 100 per cent capacity. On Tuesday, only half the beds at the site were occupied, but that number fluctuates depending on demand, she added.

There are about 90 beds available in Winnipeg for people experiencing homelessness who need to self-isolate, said Squires, adding that there are plans in place should there be a sudden need to expand capacity.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many people experiencing homelessness in the city have resorted to hunkering down in Winnipeg Transit shelters.

More people who are homeless in Winnipeg have resorted to staying in bus shelters ever since code red started on Nov. 2, 2020. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

When asked how the provincial government is addressing that issue, Squires said the province is monitoring capacity at emergency homeless shelters. On Tuesday, Squires was informed that all shelters have room for people, but that may change if temperatures drop as forecasted later this week, she said.

Meanwhile, $335,000 is being spent on preparing and delivering meals to low-income Manitobans, who are self-isolating in a place where they do not have access to a kitchen, or cannot get their own groceries.

Since Dec. 31, 2020, meal packages for breakfast, lunch and dinner have been provided daily to five to 10 people each day while in their isolation periods, a news release said.

Manitoba Housing's food services and Made with Love prepare the meals, and they are delivered by Sscope Inc., a Winnipeg non-profit that provides employment to people living with a mental health illness, the release added. 

The meal program will last as long as Manitoba endures the pandemic, Squires said.

Tuesday's press conference comes as Manitoba public health officials announce 83 new cases of COVID-19.

Provincial data says there are now 3,421 known active cases throughout Manitoba, but health officials say that number may be inflated due to a backlog in data entry.

No new data about COVID-19 deaths were reported Tuesday due to a system reset underway by the province. The data will be reported Wednesday.

'Paltry announcement'

NDP MLA Malaya Marcelino, who is also the critic for the status of women, called Squires' announcement "paltry" during a scrum Tuesday.

"Any bus shelter, almost, that you pass by, there are people sleeping in it and that is not right. That's not providing dignity for those folks," said Marcelino.

"It was a paltry announcement, in my opinion. It was just a few more beds, five people getting some meals in case they need it ... What we need is five loaves of bread and two fish, and instead, our community got crumbs."

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont told reporters that in March 2020, the party urged the Pallister government to draft a report that details how it will care for First Nations, personal care homes and people who are isolated and low-income during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Eleven months later, we're finally finding out what some of that is going to look like," said Lamont.

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says the PC government needs to start investing in more long-term solutions for homelessness. (CBC)

A flaw with how the Pallister government approaches homelessness was exemplified today, as it spends money to expand a temporary solution, he said.

"We're talking about shelter spaces. We're not talking about permanent housing," he said. "Whether it's Main Street [Project], or whether it's Siloam Mission, in many cases people are sleeping on mats on floors ... These are also places that people cannot stay all day."

444 vacancies in families ministry in fiscal 2019

Manitoba's department of families had 444 vacancies from April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020, according to a document obtained by the Opposition NDP through a freedom of information request that the party released to the news media Tuesday.

The staffing shortage made it harder for families to access services, such as child care, employment and income assistance and affordable housing, during the pandemic, says Marcelino.

"Just in my own constituency office, we know that it takes almost two months [from] a family getting an EIA worker appointment until they can get their first round of help. So this is very, very concerning," said Marcelino, who represents the Notre Dame constituency in Winnipeg.

"I think it just brings to light the fact that this is why we have housing crisis currently happening here."

At the time of the vacancies, Heather Stefanson, the current health minister, would have been at the helm of the department. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC News. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. Prior to joining the CBC, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email him at nick.frew@cbc.ca

With files from Jill Coubrough

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