Homeless camp cleared by police, but the problem isn't going away: city councillor

People living in a tiny homeless camp on the walkway under the Maryland Bridge near Misericordia Health Centre were told by police to pack up and relocate on Monday, but more camps are likely to spring up this summer, Coun. Sherri Rollins says.

Coun. Sherri Rollins expects more homeless camps to appear this summer

Coun. Sherri Rollins believes that with more people accessing homeless shelters and other social services over the winter, more homeless tent camps are likely to spring up across the city this summer. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

A homeless man named Sheldon is packing up his meagre belongings, including the makeshift tent of sheets he drapes over benches and chairs at night, as he prepares to leave the tiny homeless camp he's called home for the past week.

Sheldon, who asked that his last name not be used, is among the last few people to leave the camp under the Maryland Bridge near Misericordia Health Centre that Winnipeg police ordered cleared on Monday.

"[This area] has been like a living room for me for most of my life," he said on Monday afternoon.  "Since I was a teen in high school, I've been on these riverbanks. It's a favourite go-to place. I'm sort of grounded here and I know it well. I have little fear."

Sheldon became homeless three years ago after the rooming house he was staying in became infested with bedbugs and cockroaches. Finding affordable housing has been a challenge, he says.

"The housing situation and the price and the condition for the money is abhorrent," he said.

Homeless camp cleared by police

4 years ago
Duration 2:12
A handful of homeless people were forced to relocate their makeshift camp on Monday afternoon after a warning from Winnipeg Police.

While walking through the camp, discarded needles, garbage and bottles of alcohol were clearly visible. Although some campers lacked respect for the place, Sheldon says, he and others spent a lot of time trying to keep the area clean.

The city confirmed they spoke with the people living in the tents to let them know they needed to be off city grounds within 12 to 24 hours. They did not confirm why the police asked them to leave.

A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service says officers enforce applicable acts and bylaws governing camping in the city.

"There are ample social service agencies willing to help these individuals with food and shelter, and that is generally where our conversation begins. It is our experience that the vast majority of these individuals choose to camp rather than use social services," a statement from the police service said.

Councillor expects more homeless

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said believes more homeless people will be on the streets in the upcoming months, as she saw an increase in people accessing social services and shelters over the winter.

In speaking with community organisations, Rollins says, Oak Table and Just a Warm Sleep told her there was a higher number of people accessing services, which she feels will result in more homeless tent camps.

"I think there is a good chance that it will be higher," she said.

We need to have a fundamental conversation here with respect to mental health, social services — health care that we're not having- Coun. Sherri Rollins

The lack of solutions to the methamphetamine crisis, little affordable housing and limited resources for mental health in the province have exacerbated the problem, Rollins says, adding she wants more info on what happened when police ordered the camp cleared.

"[I'm hearing] concerning things like they've been moved off and they've been told to move by the Winnipeg Police Services, and that is something I will be following up with the Winnipeg Police Services with respect to how people are being treated."

A homeless man who pitched a tent using a wooden bench and concrete wall was among those told by police to clear out of a homeless camp. (Tyler Crivea/CBC)

When police ask residents to relocate, the rookie city councillor says, it can be be seen as unneeded power being used. 

"I'm also concerned with social inclusion, so for sure I am talking to every [city] department about that and every department about the stigma and barriers that Winnipeggers face," Rollins said.

City, province must collaborate: Rollins

Last year, a small encampment of a few homeless campers grew to nearly 40 people living on grounds of the All Saints' Anglican Church.

A man packs his belongings into two shopping carts after being told he can no longer sleep underneath the Maryland Bridge. (Tyler Crivea/CBC)

Right now is the perfect time for the province and the city to discuss their ideas towards a solution to provide housing to the city's homeless population, Rollins says

"We need to have a fundamental conversation here with respect to mental health, social services — health care that we're not having," she said. 

During an afternoon walk, Rhonda Black and a friend stumbled onto the homeless camp just as it was being torn down.

"They're not doing anything to anyone," said Black, who feels the city doesn't need to push residents off property, especially when they're not harming anyone

"City [council] members and people in power, the way we tend to treat those who have less power and less money, if we treat them with less worth than others, then it says a lot … It's pretty despicable," she said.

While Black acknowledges the homeless are nomadic within the city and will find another place, she feels that the divide between government and its people's needs are at opposite sides of the spectrum.

"The divide is just growing … there's people who are being swept under the rug, year over year over year, and it's just history repeating itself," Black said.