City budget promises more than $1M to help homeless Winnipeggers in 2022

The city's preliminary budget includes money for public washrooms downtown and support for the rapid housing initiative.

Funding in preliminary budget for public washrooms, outreach services, rapid housing

Alexia Legere and Carlos Benevides with Saabe Peacewalkers gather wood for a fire at a warming site near the Disraeli Bridge on Friday. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Initiatives to help people experiencing homelessness are among the projects the City of Winnipeg plans to fund in its 2022 budget.

The city's commitment for those initiatives in its preliminary budget, which was released Friday, totals around $1.1 million. 

Nearly $300,000 will support the operation of public washrooms downtown. The city will also spend $250,000 for staffing support to the delivery for Rapid Housing Initiative funding from the federal government. 

That's on top of $550,000 of existing spending on mobile outreach for homeless people.

"I think it's amazing," said Alexia Legere, who volunteers with the Indigenous social services coalition Saabe Peacewalkers to help maintain a warming tent for homeless people near the Disraeli Bridge.

"In the wintertime, when you're experiencing homelessness, there's not a lot of places to go, and with COVID, a lot of places won't let people in to use public washrooms."

Advocates have long called for accessible public washrooms in Winnipeg's downtown — a need many say the pandemic has exacerbated.

One of the people warming up in the tent Friday afternoon said a promise to help get more people into housing is "a great start."

Denis M., who didn't want to give his full last name, doesn't have a home and stays with friends or in shelters. He's grateful to have somewhere to get out of the cold.

"It's nice to see that kind of sense of unity ... just as it was really necessary to have these spaces for people to come and really communicate, and just kind of be together as we're in the cold winter months again," he said.

He hopes whatever the city does, it focuses on getting people into homes.

"That sense of home, that nesting, is valuable," he said.

"As long as there is a pathway toward housing, being able to service individuals in that way and give a person the best opportunity to have a space that they could use — I'd like to see more of that, but this is a great start."

In July, the federal government announced the city would receive $12.8 million from the federal Rapid Housing Initiative, which aims to expedite the construction of new affordable housing.

That housing is needed immediately, said Jason Whitford, CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

"Food prices are getting higher, fuel prices have reached an all-time high, and this is going to impact our vulnerable populations," said Whitford.

"So we need to strategize and work together on investment of resources now to invest in people's lives, to make sure they have the resources they need access to."

Carlos Benevides with the Saabe Peacewalkers sees the need for housing up close every day.

"The first day I started this job, I saw a lady in there and she was really cold. Opened my heart to see the reality of it out here.… I get to go home to a nice apartment, nice warm bed."

What Winnipeg's 2022 city budget means for ending homelessness

2 months ago
Duration 2:15
Nearly $300,000 will support the operation of public washrooms in downtown Winnipeg. The city will also spend $250,000 for staffing support to the delivery for Rapid Housing Initiative funding from the federal government. 2:15

With files from Sam Samson and Bartley Kives