Homeless shelter opens in Portage la Prairie, Man.

A new homeless shelter has opened in Portage la Prairie, Man., as a pilot project for the summer.

6-bed facility opened in late June; now operates 5 nights per week

Rest-a-Bit, Portage la Prairie's first homeless shelter, opened its doors inside a local chruch in late June. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

A new homeless shelter has opened in Portage la Prairie, Man., as a pilot project for the summer.

The Rest-A-Bit shelter opened its doors three days a week in a church in the southern Manitoba city, located about 85 kilometres west of Winnipeg, in late June and expanded to five days a week in early July. 

Miriam Turyamwijuka, who serves as chair of the non-profit's board, said the idea came after someone made a post on a local Facebook group asking about services for the homeless. 

"The community has really come together for it," she said. 

Donations, fundraisers help non-profit group 

She said a group started planning through the winter and then received a $10,000 grant from a fundraiser to help pay for the pilot project. 

Board chair Miriam Turyamwijuka hopes the shelter can expand its operations to seven nights per week in the near future. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

After beds, bedding, a space and other necessities were donated, they were ready to open in the Prairie Vineyard Church, which is allowing the group to use the space during the week. 

The beds and other supplies, which line one side of the church's sanctuary, are tucked away into a corner when the church opens for services. 

"It was neat to see the whole community come together because it just goes to show there is so much generosity in this community," said Turyamwijuka.

Turyamwijuka said the group wasn't sure what to expect when the shelter opened. 

"It's really hard to gauge that," she said. "We asked around to try get an idea for that to expect."

So far, a handful of people have made use of the six-bed facility during the week, but estimates suggest there are around 20-25 people who are homeless in Portage la Prairie. 

"That would include people that are couch surfing," she said. "Also people that are sleeping on the island or under the bridge." 

Helping the homeless

Ron Eldridge, who lived on the streets for years and now resides in Portage la Prairie, is happy to see a shelter in the community.

"That's a really great thing," he said. "They're going a great job."

Eldridge said he lived on the streets for 14 years starting in 1978. During that time he'd sleep in fields and hitchhike from city to city. 

"It's something I would not recommend. It's not pleasant," he said.

Eldridge, who now works in Portage la Prairie and has lived there for the past two years, spends his extra time and money giving back. 

Ron Elderidge and his wife have lived in Portage for the last two years and have started handing out care kits to the less fortunate. (Riley Laychuk/CBC )

In 1996, he started handing out care packs to homeless people in Winnipeg. Now, he's doing the same in Portage la Prairie. 

"I just had it in my heart that we should still be out there helping whoever we can," he said, adding he's noticed more people either homeless or living below the poverty line in the last two years. 

Ron Elderidge became what he called a transient homeless person in 1978 and moved from city to city for 14 years. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Expansion plans 

Those staying at the new Portage la Prairie shelter are also offered basic toiletries and food, said Turyamwijuka. 

And she's hoping to expand its offerings in the future. 

"First and foremost, we want to provide shelter to those who are homeless," she said.  "There are many, many great organizations that are providing great resources.

"Our hope is to have a place seven nights a week … a central hub." 

This story was gathered as part of CBC's pop-up bureau in Portage la Prairie in early July. Have a story idea we should look into? Email Riley Laychuk


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