Province announces funding for warming space in Brandon as Samaritan House shelter overflows
Safe and Warm shelter receives $150,000 to address client overflow crisis
Brandon's shelter capacity crisis received a slight reprieve Friday.
Premier Heather Stefanson announced the province will provide more than $150,000 to Samaritan House's Safe and Warm shelter to fund an overflow warming space and increase the non-profit's funding to $501,875 from $172,000 annually.
"We recognize there is an urgent need for additional overnight shelter spaces in Brandon," Stefanson said.
Brandon's only shelter announced in early October it was already experiencing a capacity crisis.
The shelter served 435 unique clients between Jan. 1 and Nov. 3 of this year. That's more than four times the number of people served — 104 — from Jan. 1 to Sept. 16 in 2019.
Safe and Warm opened in 2013 as a 10-bed emergency shelter. It used to close in the late spring and reopen in the fall, but got funding last year to stay open year-round with a maximum capacity of 41 beds.
Sebastian Ben, 31, says he has been homeless for as long as he can remember.
He will stay at the Safe and Warm shelter when it is possible or couch surf with family members. During the day, he bounces around to multiple agencies, including the Brandon Friendship Centre and The Blue Door Project drop-in centre
What he needs in the community is help, he said, but that it is not always easy to access.
"I need support," Ben said. "I'm just angry at the world right now.… What am I supposed to do in life if there's nobody to trust?"
Samaritan House executive director Barbara McNish says Safe and Warm will be working with other agencies as the warming space is rolled out.
More details on the capacity of the warming space and if it will be a permanent fixture in the community are expected in the coming weeks.
Unhoused in Brandon
A growing number of people in Brandon live in absolute homelessness or are accessing emergency shelters, says Megan McKenzie, research and project development co-ordinator for the Brandon Neighborhood Renewal Corporation.
McKenzie says 72 per cent of the clients at the Safe and Warm shelter identify as Indigenous.
A BNRC vulnerability index study involving 291 respondents from August 2019 to September 2022 showed that 43 per cent of those experiencing homelessness focus on surviving day-to-day, affecting their health and overall wellness.
"People's social wellness and personal wellness, so much of that is affected by their housing," said Shannon Saltarelli, Brandon Community Housing and Wellness co-ordinator.
People slide up and down what is called the "housing continuum." She said the left side of the housing continuum includes homelessness, shelters, transitional housing, and low-income housing and these are often deeply rooted in social wellness concerns including poverty, mental health and addiction.
In the vulnerability index report, only eight per cent of people reported being housed, while 43 per cent were couch surfing, 12 per cent were living outdoors and 24 per cent were accessing shelters.
"We are seeing a lot of gaps in housing that is available for those providers that do work in housing like a housing first model or low-income housing," Saltarelli said. "Then we are seeing these really high numbers at the homeless shelter."
More housing options needed
Danielle Zalusky, a case manager with Brandon Housing First, says the number of clients has almost tripled this year over 2019.
The perfect storm was created when the YWCA's Meredith Place was forced to close in May, she says, leaving the city without any transitional housing to help people get back on their feet and secure permanent housing.
There is a growing wait list of clients needing housing at the Brandon Women's Resource Centre, says advocacy and community engagement co-ordinator Sandy Smith.
In the end, getting a roof over someone's head is often a waiting game and jumping when a vacancy becomes available.
The growing demand shows more housing options and funding is needed from all levels of government, she said.
"It's often a struggle for myself and my co-workers to … help people navigate the housing," Smith said. "It's really tough right now."