Manitoba

'This is our home': Group plans to rebuild after homeless camp burned to the ground

Twelve hours after a fire ripped through a homeless camp under the Osborne Bridge, a group of people dropped off bags of donated goods to help those living there begin to rebuild.

Community members dropped off supplies Wednesday evening for group that live under Osborne Bridge

People living in a homeless encampment under the Osborne Bridge say they don't want to leave the spot and plan to rebuild after a fire destroyed all but one tent Wednesday morning. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Twelve hours after a fire ripped through a homeless camp under the Osborne Bridge, a group of people dropped off bags of donated goods to help those living there begin to rebuild.

"We have tents, we've got warm blankets, we've got mats that have been donated, they're crocheted out of plastic bags, all kinds of food, clothing, warm socks, warm underwear, jackets," said Jenny Exner.

Exner heard about what happened and decided to get some supplies together with a friend. She posted about it on Facebook and the donations began rolling in.

Jenny Exner heard about the fire and gathered up donations of tents, blankets, food, and clothing to distribute to the people in the camp. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

With the help of the West End Bear Clan Patrol they delivered the supplies Wednesday evening.

"Because this is what you do for community members when a tragedy strikes and it's what we should do for everybody."

She said the people in the camp were very thankful for the help, grabbing clean blankets and tents to prepare for the cold night.

"Very happy, very appreciated. They are doing their best to get everything under control with the little bit of mess that's here but having some fresh supplies definitely helps that," Exner said.

Jenny Exner, along with the West End Bear Clan, delivered donated supplies to the homeless camp under the Osborne Bridge Wednesday night. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Exner said she was overwhelmed by the response from the community but still thinks more can be done. 

"I think as a community we can do better, I'm glad that we could join forces today and make this happen," she said.

"But I think as a general population and a community, that we can do better, this could be a better living situation."

Plans to rebuild

The people living in the camp said they plan to rebuild and don't want to have to leave or be split up.

"That's our home," said Rob Winsor, who was out panhandling on Osborne Street at rush hour Wednesday afternoon, something he doesn't usually do.

His sign says 'I'm homeless and our home burned last night.'

Rob Winsor was one of the people living under the bridge. He said he lost everything in the fire but plans to rebuild. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

He's one of about eight people who were living in the camp and said the fire consumed all but one tent.

"[We lost] everything, our clothes, our blankets, our food, everything," he said.

Burnt-out bicycle parts, melted plastic and singed clothing is all that's left of the camp. 

The ground is covered with mud and soot, and the smell of smoke and chemicals is heavy in the air. 

But the group plans to sleep there anyway.

'It's a lot safer than anywhere else'

The fire started in Deanna Moore's tent. She blew out a candle before going to sleep and didn't realize it wasn't completely out, she said.

"I put the covers over my head and then alls I feel at my feet is this warm, my blanket was on fire," she said.

"That's all I heard was like, popping, like little things exploding." 

"I've never been in a fire before."

The fire started in Deanna Moore's tent. She said she woke up to her blanket on fire and suffered minor burns on her hands. She says she wants to stay with the group and continue to live under the Osborne Bridge. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

The explosions were aerosol cans and propane tanks. She suffered minor burns to her hands but didn't go to the hospital.

Moore said she's lost everything she's collected over the last few months.

She's been living at the camp for the last two months she said, after she was kicked out of Manitoba Housing three months ago.

"It's a lot safer than anywhere else, staying in bus shacks is not too fun," Moore said.

The group was bagging up the burnt-out mess Wednesday afternoon and trying to figure out where everyone will sleep.

'Hear us out'

She said she hasn't been able to get into a shelter.

"Every time I try and call there they're always full, I have no choice [but] to stay outside," she said.

"The city should look into more buildings for the homeless."

After the fire, Moore said she thought about moving the camp to the grounds of the Manitoba legislative building just across the river, in hopes of drawing attention to their situation.

"Just for them to hear us out, but if we do do that they're going to kick us off the property," she said.

She said she plans to stay with group and clean up the camp, even though she feels responsible for the fire.

"It just felt like it was all my fault," said Moore.

She said an outreach worker came by and talked to her about getting into a shelter at some point, but Moore said she would probably continue to stay under the bridge.

"This is where we all are and everyone wants to stay together," she said.

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