Manitoba

'Urgent' action needed to help people experiencing homelessness, Manitoba Liberals say

The government needs to take immediate action to help people experiencing homelessness get out of the cold and stay safe during the pandemic, the Manitoba Liberal Party says.

Maps of places to warm up should be put up in bus shelters, as more people seek refuge in them, party says

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont says more needs to be done now to help people experiencing homelessness. (CBC)

The government needs to take immediate action to help people experiencing homelessness get out of the cold and stay safe during the pandemic, the Manitoba Liberal Party says.

"This is a killing cold," Liberal leader Dougald Lamont said at a news conference on Sunday. "It's really urgent that we act on this right now."

The party is calling for resources like signs and maps to be put up in bus shelters, which more people have started using to duck out from the cold as usual daytime gathering spots are shut down during the pandemic, Lamont said.

Liberal health critic Jon Gerrard said it's a small step that would go a long way right now.

"We need to have signage in bus shelters," he said.

"'Here is where you can go to get help. Here is the nearest place that you can go to keep warm. Here's a map, showing you how to get there.' These are fairly simple things to do, straightforward, but they can be very helpful."

The Liberals also say there should be free face masks available during the pandemic in bus shelters, which are often crowded with people.

More than 1,500 people in Manitoba are experiencing homelessness, the Liberals said in a news release. 

Lamont also called for a citywide approach in Winnipeg with a central command centre that can co-ordinate mobile units to get people indoors. 

Those recommendations are part of the Liberals' 10-point plan to address and end homelessness in the province.

The party unveiled some of those recommendations — opening warming centres, creating an online portal with resources for people experiencing homelessness and making it easier to access addictions treatment and income assistance — at the end of December.

On Sunday, it added several items to that list, including recommendations to fast-track people into apartments or hotel rooms and tapping Indigenous cultural approaches to welcome people in from the cold.

Lamont said the province needs to step up immediately, not just to get people inside during a Manitoba-wide cold spell, but also to address and end poverty and homelessness.

A spokesperson for Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires said the government is committed to supporting Manitobans experiencing homelessness and pointed to recent provincial spending on self-isolation units and shelter capacity.

"Our government will continue working with community partners to invest in solutions to support and protect Manitoba's most vulnerable people, including those experiencing homelessness," the spokesperson said in an email.

The City of Winnipeg did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

Studies show it's cheaper to house people who don't have a place to stay instead of leaving them on the street because it takes strain off places like hospitals and jails, Lamont said.

He also said the duty to help people experiencing homelessness who are out in the cold should shift away from police or transit and toward health care or mobile support units from outreach organizations.

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