Manitoba Metis Federation threatens City of Winnipeg with legal action if homeless encampment isn't dealt with

The Manitoba Metis Federation is prepared to take legal action against the City of Winnipeg over the growing homeless encampment next to its building near the Disraeli Freeway, according to a letter addressed to the city dated June 2.

MMF president says $138K spent on extra security, workers feel unsafe going to work

A small part of the homeless encampment in front the MMF's headquarters at 150 Henry Avenue on Wednesday. The federation says it will take the city to court if nothing is done about it. (John Einarson/CBC)

The Manitoba Metis Federation is prepared to take legal action against the City of Winnipeg over the growing homeless encampment next to its headquarters near the Disraeli Freeway, according to a letter addressed to the city dated June 2.

The MMF building is located on Henry Avenue, near the South Point Douglas area, and there is a large homeless camp next to it that continues to grow.

Federation president David Chartrand says they started having issues with the people living there last winter, but it's been getting worse of late. Some workers have been harassed or threatened and no longer feel safe going to work, and the MMF has spent about $138,000 on extra security for workers and to protect the property.

"It's getting unbelievable and uncontrollable," Chartrand told CBC News.

Drug use, public indecency, fires and violence are often witnessed around the encampment, he said, and some people living there have mental health issues.

Chartrand says the camp is creating an unsafe work environment for MMF employees, and it has cost them about $138,000 in extra security measures. (John Einarson/CBC)

Passersby are donating old furniture or appliances as well, Chartrand said, which is giving people experiencing homelessness more incentive to live there.

"This cannot continue, this can't be," he said. "This is not the way of our city, it's not the way of our province — and it's not the solution to just close your eyes and walk away, and think, 'Well it's not in my neighbourhood.'"

Chartrand says he sent two letters to Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman regarding the issue, and had a conversation with Bowman about it while meeting for an unrelated reason, but there has been no action.

The MMF's lawyer sent a letter to the city on Tuesday, saying that if something is not done about the camp, the Indigenous government will take them to court.

"If these encampments were on city-owned property on Wellington Crescent, Churchill Drive, Park Avenue, or in Assiniboine or Kildonan Park, we all know that such encampments would not be tolerated and such activities would be curtailed by the [Winnipeg Police Service]," the letter says.

"Why should it be different at 150 Henry Avenue?"

A spokesperson from the mayor's office said there has been no delay in responding to the previous letters from Chartrand, noting a telephone conversation took place between Bowman and Chartrand on May 21 to discuss the matter.

The city's policy toward homeless encampments involves triaging to Main Street Project, calling the police, or taking down the camp once people are vacated, a spokesperson said. (John Einarson/CBC)

"The city's legal department is reviewing yesterday's letter and will respond directly to the MMF lawyers as soon as possible," said the spokesperson, adding Bowman "will reserve comment" until the lawyers finish their review.

When the city receives a report about any homeless encampment, it relays that to Main Street Project — a charity in Winnipeg that helps those experiencing homelessness — which tries to connect people living in the area with appropriate services, another city spokesperson told CBC News.

The city only takes down structures when activity or living conditions become hazardous, and they will only clean up abandoned items once no one is living in the encampment, the spokesperson said.

Should a camp pose a risk to public safety, however, the WPS will be called to the area, they said.

With files from Stephen Ripley