Growing tent city in front of Broadway church to be dismantled for wedding, but may be allowed back
'I wish we could stay longer,' says one camper at church, where numbers have doubled in recent days
A tent city, which has popped up on the lawn of a West Broadway church, will be dismantled on Wednesday, but may be permitted to come back depending on the outcome of a meeting.
On Sunday Brent Neumann, rector of the All Saints' Anglican Church, told CBC News an upcoming wedding will result in the dismantling of the encampment. He also said the group of people camping out on the church's lawn has grown significantly over the past week.
Neumann said the church will decide on Tuesday if the group of people camping there nightly can come back after the wedding.
"As a community, we're a little divided right now because we aren't clear as a body how we're going to move forward," said Neumann.
The church has told those camping on the property they will need to leave on Wednesday to allow the church to clean and prepare the grounds. However, it's unknown if those people will be allowed back, said Neumann.
"Do we continue on, or do we put a stop to that?"
To make that decision, Neumann said he has called a meeting of the church's vestry to decide what to do.
People have camped there in the past, said Neumann, but it was generally only overnight. In late April and early May, a few people set up tents on the church grounds and stayed.
Over the past five or six days, the number has more than doubled from about 15 people nightly to up to 40, said Neumann.
"We're seeing the growth, we're seeing the challenge, we're seeing the stress that our environment is under at this point," he said. "How do we [solve this] in a way that's going to make sense for everyone?"
Terry Johnsen, one of the squatters on the church's lawn, said he will pack up his belongings willingly.
"We understand and we thank them very much for the time that we had here," he said. "I wish we could stay longer."
Johnsen, who has been homeless since there was a fire in his house in 2016, said the occupants have other neighbourhoods to go to, should police permit it, but he hopes they'll be welcomed back onto the church grounds.
"It's close to everything that we've ever known," he said, referring to its central location in the city close to supporting agencies.
He dismissed homeless shelters as an option because they have too many guidelines, he said.
The church and local community and support services have been struggling to provide basic necessities for those who are camping on the grounds, said Neumann.
What is being required of us goes way beyond our capacity.- Brent Neumann
"We finally put in a porta-potty this week because obviously outdoor facilities was a huge need," he said. "But what is being required of us goes way beyond our capacity."
Neighbours, the congregation and people living in the community have been expressing their concerns and sharing their ideas with the church, said Neumann.
On Sunday, the church did a straw poll to ask its congregation what they thought of the situation and for ideas to help. Those results will be part of the meeting on Tuesday, he added.
Caitlin Bousfield, who works nearby at Hunter and Gunn barbershop, said dismantling the tent city pushes out the people who likely lived in the neighbourhood before it was gentrified.
"It's kind of hard to say that you want them to be gone because they were probably all here before we were," she said.
NDP MLA Rob Altemeyer met with the group a few weeks ago and commended the church for handling the situation "in a really admirable way."
He pointed to a lack of affordable housing as a major reason homeless people are forced to find shelter on the street, blaming the current PC government for "slamming on the brakes" on housing projects.
However, provincial Families Minister Scott Fielding said the province continues to open new housing units, with construction happening on about 150 more.
"We've increased the amount of people enrolled in the Rent Assist program by more than 2,700 and also launched the Housing First rental subsidy to help people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness."
He said Monday the province has reached out to the church to schedule a meeting.
"What I want to do by reaching out to Reverend Neumann is ensure … people know what options are out there," said Fielding.
"There is progress made but we need to co-ordinate this thing better. Homelessness of course is an issue and we really want to address and give support to vulnerable Manitobans."
Area councillor Jenny Gerbasi said she's heard concerns from the church and residents and expects discussions to continue.
In an email, Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said police have not received any complaints about the encampment "and have made contact with individuals in the area."
With files from Holly Caruk