Manitoba

Winnipeg seeks help to remove homeless camps, needles from public areas

The City of Winnipeg wants to hire a contractor this summer to dismantle homeless camps and collect used needles from parks and other public spaces. 

Winning bidder will also empty boxes for needles to be located in 9 city parks

One of the main responsibilities for the winning contractor will be dismantling temporary homeless shelters and removing bulky items like blankets, mattresses and shopping carts. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg wants to hire a contractor this summer to dismantle homeless camps and collect used needles from parks and other public areas.

The external hires will be asked to do a range of jobs, according to a request for proposals (RFP) posted on the city's website, including: 

  • Discard "bulky waste" that make up "temporary homeless shelters," such as mattresses, tarps, shopping carts and garbage.
  • Collect and dispose of "biohazardous" items from parks and other public areas, including used needles, human feces and condoms. 
  • Collect needles at disposal bins yet to be installed at nine city parks and green spaces. 

The RFP was issued "due to the increasing number of 311 service requests about needles and sharps," city spokesperson Ken Allen wrote in an email to CBC.

"Contracting out this service will ensure a resource dedicated to the proper and safe collection and disposal of needles and sharps," Allen wrote.

Winnipeg consulted with "key stakeholders," including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, before issuing the RFP, he said.

A number of groups CBC contacted Monday and Tuesday that work with vulnerable people seemed unfamiliar with the RFP, including the Bear Clan Patrol, End Homelessness Winnipeg and the Main Street Project.

It won't sit well with me if we don't get something out of this.- James Favel, Bear Clan Patrol

Adrienne Dudek, the Main Street Project's director of transitional housing, said she hopes outreach workers have the chance to speak with people living on the street before their shelters are destroyed.

"By taking away the physical structure, we're not actually addressing the root cause of why that person created that structure," Dudek said.

The city will take "all reasonable care" to protect the health and safety of people living in the temporary shelters, Allen said.

"The occupants are informed that they have 12-24 hours (specified time) to remove their belongings or the City of Winnipeg will remove them. Depending on the situation, the police may be contacted for assistance in resolving he matter," Allen wrote.

"The city works with social agencies to gain insight and education for our employees in an effort to help us provide respectful delivery of our public service duties as it relates to the cleanup of these temporary shelters and dealing with vulnerable persons in our parks."

Some of the bulky items may be stored for later pickup "where possible," Allen wrote.

Bear Clan Patrol eyes contract

Bear Clan Patrol's executive director, James Favel, said Tuesday he plans to bid on the contract with the city. The volunteer group has been collecting needles since 2015.

In 2019 alone, Favel said, Bear Clan volunteers have picked up 46,000 dirty needles in Winnipeg.

"It won't sit well with me if we don't get something out of this," said Favel.

While the Bear Clan is able to safely pick up tens of thousands of needles, Favel isn't sure he is comfortable taking apart homeless shelters.

"My concern is the people. These are the things they've gathered. They have mental health issues — these things mean a lot to them," Favel said.

"I'm not super keen on displacing people that are in that predicament."

If the Bear Clan Patrol agreed to remove shelters, they would try to connect the people affected with the resources they need, Favel said. 

According to the city's RFP, 311 fielded 419 calls from people last year complaining about dirty needles found in Winnipeg — that's up from 339 calls in 2017 and 124 calls in 2016.

Along with collecting individual needles, the awarded contractors must collect the contents of needle disposal boxes — which will be installed at nine parks and other locations in Winnipeg — on a weekly basis.

The hired contractor would work from Aug. 1, 2019 to July 31, 2020 with the option of two one-year contract extensions.

The City of Winnipeg wants to hire a contractor this summer to dismantle homeless camps and collect used needles from parks and other public areas. 2:30

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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