Tent city springs up at West Broadway church

The rector of a large West Broadway church says he's at a loss at what to do about a tent city that has popped up on the church's lawn over the past several weeks.

All Saints' Church struggles with surge in homeless, sometimes drug-addled, campers

The rector at All Saints' Anglican Church says he may eventually have to ask people to leave. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The rector of a large West Broadway church says he's at a loss at what to do about a tent city that has popped up on the church's lawn over the past several weeks.

Numerous tents and cardboard homes have appeared at All Saints' Anglican Church over the past three weeks. Rector Brent Neumann says they may have to ask residents to leave. 

"We've had [a few] off and on over the years and I've always been of the impression that you come, you need the night, you stay the night and move on the next day," said Neumann.

But about three weeks ago things "went sideways" with numerous tents popping up. Wednesday morning, Neumann said he counted five, calling it "on the small side" because many had already moved along in the morning.

"You want to have that Christian response, and on the flip side, when does it become where now we're being abused as well?"

He cites the increased use of methamphetamine and opioids as a major factor in the upswing of homeless tenters.

"Some of them who are there are so high, they are almost inarticulate, they can't talk at all."

A person sleeps on the ground at All Saints' Anglican Church Wednesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Other reasons people tell Neumann they are tenting at the church include a lack of mental health supports, not feeling safe or no room in shelters, being afraid to camp elsewhere, the high river waters flooding their usual camping spot and a few who choose to be homeless and looking for a safe space to camp.

Neumann said the result has been tension between the people camping and parishioners who are intimidated or upset about damage and vandalism to the grounds.

Reached out for help

The parish has reached out to numerous levels of government and organizations for help, but Neumann said like his parish, they're also struggling with few resources. 

The Manitoba government announced funding for a new addictions program Tuesday, spending $1.2 million for five quick-access addictions centres, including two in Winnipeg.

The program aims to more quickly connect addicts to primary care, and will also integrate things like opioid replacement therapy and counselling.

NDP MLA Rob Altemeyer said he had a meeting with Neumann and the tent community Tuesday.

"I think the church has been handling this in a really admirable way," said Altemeyer.

A house made of cardboard on the lawn of All Saints' Anglican Church in West Broadway. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"On the other hand, that site is church property and ironically, about to become a construction zone to build some more affordable housing units."

All Saints' Church has been working for years to build affordable housing on their property, he added.

Altemeyer pointed to the lack of affordable housing as a major driver behind the increasing number of transient people forced to find shelter on the street.

"This situation is so frustrating because it's so unnecessary," said Altemeyer. "We were making progress. In my constituency alone, we built hundreds of affordable housing units in the time when we were in government."

Altemeyer accused the current PC government of "slamming on the brakes" on affordable housing development, leading to a spike in homelessness.

Families Minister Scott Fielding said since taking office, the PC government has opened or subsidized 467 affordable housing units, with construction underway on 149 more, 30 per cent of which are social housing.

"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."

There are numerous other inner city projects they're working on, Fielding said, including the Downtown Commons, Merchant's Corner, housing co-ops and more, as well as spending $3 million on Siloam Mission's expansion.

"We continue to develop our provincial housing strategy and recently signed on to a multilateral framework with the federal government which includes a focus on affordable housing."

Area councillor Jenny Gerbasi said she's heard concerns from the church and residents.

"We are seeing some movement on a national housing strategy and homelessness initiatives, however there are impacts on the community right in the neighbourhood that are troublesome," she said in a statement sent to CBC.

Area groups are meeting in West Broadway to work together on these issues, said Gerbasi, and she expects those discussions to continue.

All Saints' Church struggles with tents and cardboard homes on lawn

5 years ago
Duration 1:07
A West Broadway church is struggling to figure out what to do about a tent city that has popped up on the church's lawn over the past several weeks.