Addictions advocate pleads for support of people in Winnipeg's homeless camps

Arlene Last-Kolb, an advocate for addiction treatment, says camps for homeless people provide a safer option for those at risk of overdose.

Camps a safer place for vulnerable people, says mother who lost son to addiction

One of two homeless camps outside the Manitoba Metis Federation building is seen on Monday. The City of Winnipeg ordered the camps to be cleared out. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

I have learned a great deal in the last few years. 

I have done lots of advocating. I have spent hours learning about our city and how it is run — from our government to our city hall. 

I was also a part of the Manitoba Mental Health and Addictions Strategy: Improving Access and Co-ordination of Mental Health and Addiction Services report— also called the Virgo report — and still keep in touch with its lead author, Dr. Brian Rush.

This is what I've learned: there are two sides to what addiction and mental health look like in our city.

There are the ones, who, like us, have support. Or manage their addictions and don't end up in the obituaries.

And then there is our downtown. The great divide.

I cannot accept that. They want the downtown homeless encampments gone. Out of sight, out of mind.

I cannot understand how Mr. David Chartrand from the Manitoba Metis Federation can want these encampments gone, because of the safety of his employees. 

Mr. Chartrand did include his concerns for the safety of those who use the encampments, but in my opinion, that wasn't enough.

Am I missing something here? 

How can the leader of the MMF have so little knowledge of homelessness? 

We see encampments as a eyesore. They see it as necessary to their safety.- Arlene Last-Kolb

There are drugs being sold everywhere in that area. Have been for years. 

Why would the dealers go to encampments and risk being caught, when they just have to go across the street?

Some agencies and individuals say they have beds and shelter for everyone — and they do. But a bed is not a home and shelters are restricted. It is as plain as day that the people living in homeless camps need housing with community living. They have built a trust in these encampments.

Why isn't the MMF doing more? Didn't they just buy a very expensive building at Portage and Main?

I have said this before: how long do we allow our downtown to grow over people, and just complain and want them gone?

Arlene Last-Kolb says people living with addiction are safer in homeless camps, where others may have access to things like naloxone, than on the streets. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

We blame meth, but we don't do anything about it. Where is our safe supply to get people off meth? I mean, wouldn't that make sense?

These are some of our loved ones living in these encampments and I think many would be grateful to know that their child is not alone. Many people overdose alone. 

Encampments help to keep them safe. Someone is likely to have naloxone on them. 

We see encampments as a eyesore. They see it as necessary to their safety.

Something doesn't sit right with me: seeing a man in a homeless camp and saying, "call our lawyer, we need to get rid of that."

What's wrong with this picture?

Arlene Last-Kolb (Advocate Like A Mother)

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


On July 18, 2014, Arlene Last-Kolb's 24-year-old son, Jessie, passed from a fentanyl poisoning. Since then, she has spent her time talking about compassion and the lack of proper treatment in Manitoba, and speaking for those who can no longer speak for themselves.