Manitoba

Winnipeg needs help from province on homeless camps, city administrator says

The Manitoba government should be more involved in dealing with homeless encampments in Winnipeg, says the city's chief corporate services officer.

2 homeless encampments are set to be dismantled at noon Friday

Two large homeless encampment in Winnipeg, both near the Disraeli Freeway, are slated to be torn down as of noon Friday. Some residents have left, but others told CBC News they won't leave. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

The Manitoba government should be more involved in dealing with homeless encampments in Winnipeg, says the city's chief corporate services officer.

Two large homeless encampments in Winnipeg, both near the Disraeli Freeway, are slated to be torn down as of noon Friday. A city crew had already started to clean up garbage at the camps Wednesday morning using a tractor and an industrial garbage truck.

Some of the residents have left on their own or were connected with services they require, while others are still there, said City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer Michael Jack at a news conference Thursday.

But aside from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the effort has had little to no help from the province — and that needs to change, Jack says.

"When you've got people camping in large groups, in public spaces, particularly in conditions that are threatening their life safety … we all need to be using an all-hands-on-deck approach to this," he said.

The provincial government needs to step up in its efforts toward homeless encampments, City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer Michael Jack. (City TV pool camera)

The camps have safety issues such as accumulations of garbage and "other undesirable things occurring that involve violence, that involve criminal activity," he said.

"The supports we talk about when we talk about systemic failures leading to residents being in encampments like this, most of those supports are the responsibility of the provincial government."

Jack cited education, housing, and mental health and addictions supports as provincially funded services that, if their delivery is successful, could keep people from experiencing homelessness to begin with.

"We need more involvement from the province on this," he said. "The agencies involved, including the city departments involved, are doing everything they can to attempt to connect those residents to the supports.

"But at the municipal level, the city has neither the revenue levers, or the jurisdiction, frankly, over the areas … that are fundamentally underpinning a lot of the issues that you're seeing manifested at those encampments today."

A drone image taken Wednesday shows the size of the homeless encampment beside the Manitoba Metis Federation building. (Trevor Lyons/CBC)

The homeless camps, located north of Winnipeg's downtown on Austin Street and Henry Avenue, have become a topic of debate.

The Manitoba Metis Federation threatened legal action last week, saying the city was taking no action of the large camp next to its headquarters on Henry Avenue.

Then, the head of Main Street Project — a Winnipeg non-profit that provides supports for the city's homeless population — said the camps should come down due to public health risk.

On Wednesday, a notice to vacate was delivered to the camps because of health risks such as fires. But residents wondered where else they can go, and some have told CBC News that they plan to stay.

The city expects the camps to be vacated when the time comes, Jack said Thursday, adding that there has been good dialogue with residents so far and there is no intention of using force to remove them.

Jack was also asked by reporters if the city will allow the residents to live at other encampments on city property.

The city is monitoring other encampments it knows of, he said, but there are no plans to the dismantle them at this time.

"We're not focused on esthetics, we're not focused on complaints per se, in terms of how people react to them. Our main focus is the safety of the residents in those encampments," he said.

"When they reach a point where [the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service] or other agencies feel they can no longer in good conscience permit the continuation of those camps, then action will be contemplated for sure."

About the Author

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

With files from Sean Kavanagh and Austin Grabish

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