Funding boost transforms West End drop-in centre into full-time safe space

West End Winnipeggers now have a 24/7 drop-in centre after years of hoping and trying for one.

Expanded service will allow at-risk youth to be supported 'by the right people, at the right time'

The WE24 drop-in space is in the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre on Langside Street. (Google Street View)

West End Winnipeggers now have a 24/7 drop-in centre after years of hoping and trying for one.

The Manitoba government announced Friday that it will provide the Spence Neighbourhood Association annual funding of $300,000 to vastly expand the offerings at its current community drop-in space inside the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre on Langside Street.

Since 2016, the SNA has operated WE24, an overnight space for youth age 13 to 26, where they can rest, relax and get food, resources and basic needs.

It has been open Fridays, Saturdays and school holidays from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., giving at-risk youth an alternative to wandering the streets.

"The Spence Neighbourhood Association is honoured to receive this support and so thankful to our community partners for working with us to make this possible," said Lin Howes-Barr, SNA executive director.

"The community has always been the heartbeat of SNA and WE24. A strong community vision, coupled with the hard work of our incredibly warm and caring staff team, has made this possible."

The new annual funding — which includes an initial investment of $262,500 to launch the program — will allow WE24 to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year round, Health Minister Cameron Friesen and Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in a news release.

"Those experiencing mental health issues or addiction will have access to resources and staff who create a safe, warm and welcoming space," Friesen said.

"Closing the gap and offering around-the-clock hours will decrease unnecessary emergency department visits and lead to better outcomes."

Until now, the only 24-7 drop-in centre for at-risk teens in Winnipeg has been Tina's Safe Haven on Selkirk Avenue in the city's North End.

"The Spence Neighbourhood Association has been offering a safe space for youth and young adults for many years, and the ability to operate daily will provide a consistent option for support, particularly overnight, when there are limited options available," said Sharon Kuropatwa, director of housing supports and service integration with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Friday's announcement comes from the recommendations of the 2018 Virgo report — a lengthy review into the Manitoba mental health and addictions system — that call for increased access to low-barrier, timely, accessible and welcoming mental health and addiction services, the news release says.

"We know that asking police and emergency department providers to connect services to people with mental health and addiction challenges is not always the most effective way to provide support," Cullen said.

"The creation of this new drop-in service will allow these populations to be better supported and served by our community partnerships by the right people, at the right time."

A subcontract is also being established with 1JustCity, which will allow that non-profit group to extend its community drop-in hours at Just a Warm Sleep, an emergency warming centre in Osborne Village, as well as increase the operating hours for one of its drop-in lunch spaces.