Manitoba

Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham prioritizes homelessness in 1st week on the job

Winnipeg's new mayor says he's only been in the job for a week, but he's already started working on ways to address homelessness in the city.

New mayor says he's had conversations with city CAO about opening up city facilities during extreme weather

Newly elected Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham recommitted Thursday to some of his campaign promises about homelessness and affordable housing. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Winnipeg's new mayor says he's only been in the job for a week, but he's already started working on ways to address homelessness in the city.

Mayor Scott Gillingham knows unstable housing and homelessness are a big problem in the city.

"These are real people that are struggling, and we have to help," he told Marcy Markusa in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Information Radio on Thursday.

"I think it should break all of our hearts. It breaks my heart, because these are these are sons and daughters, these are parents, these are brothers and sisters that we see living on the street."

Blair Mitchell, who's staying at the Salvation Army, knows that firsthand. He said there's a need for more spaces where people experiencing homelessness can stay.

"A lot of people are being turned away 'cause they have no room. Sleeping on mats, and they don't have room for them," he said.

A man wearing a hat and sunglasses speaks into a microphone outside a door.
Blair Mitchell, who's staying at the Salvation Army, says there's a need for more spaces where people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg can stay. (Darin Morash/CBC)

Gillingham spoke the day after the 2022 Winnipeg Street Census results were released at Siloam Mission.

The survey reached over 1,200 people in the city without homes, and the researchers said that doesn't include those experiencing "hidden homelessness" — people couch surfing with friends or staying with family members.

They estimate that population was undercounted by at least 4,000 people, based on a ratio of three people for every one person experiencing absolute homelessness.

Homelessness needs to be addressed by the next mayor and council, a majority of Winnipeggers said in a poll done before the election on Oct. 26.

Gillingham said he's already spoken with the city's chief administrative officer, Michael Jack, about opening up city spaces in cold weather to give people places to go, as he promised during his mayoral campaign.

In the past, the city has used sites like the Millennium Library downtown as temporary warming spaces. But Jack said Winnipeg is still figuring how how much space it might need this year.

"Obviously, just locating the buildings isn't really the tough part. Ensuring that you've got proper resourcing for any such building in fact is always the bigger challenge," he said.

During his mayoral campaign, Gillingham also committed to continuing to fund two safe spaces, including the West End 24 Hour Safe Space, which is only open overnight. Manager Mel Crait said the centre would like to be able to expand those hours, especially once the cold weather hits.

 "We would love to extend that and have daytime supports available so that nobody's walking the streets all day in the winter months," Crait said.

Gillingham also plans to shift staff around so he has an advisor on future work on the issue.

"I'm starting to look at that right now, in my mayoral staff, is a senior advisor on homelessness and addiction, because it is a top issue in this city," he said.

Gillingham recommitted Thursday to another campaign promise regarding affordable housing.

Gillingham pledged during his mayoral campaign to create at least 270 units of modular housing — homes that are built off-site and then moved to a permanent location — using funds from the federal government's rapid housing initiative.

"I'm going to access the third round of funding from the federal government to make more modular homes available to get more people off the street," he said Thursday.

Gillingham said during the campaign that the city would waive permit and land costs and property taxes for the homes, while also speeding up the zoning approval process.

But projects like those won't be complete until well into 2023. And with temperatures in Winnipeg already dropping below zero, organizations like the Indigenous-led N'Dinawemak — Our Relatives' Place are already gearing up for the winter ahead.

Cora Morgan, a family advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said she welcomes the city's commitment to making more spaces available this winter.

"I think that if the city is prepared to offer up those spaces to be able to create those initiatives, I think that those are real steps in the right direction," Morgan said.

"They just have to really happen."

With files from Cameron MacLean

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