City of Winnipeg bans camping, fires under bridges over safety concerns

The city of Winnipeg has prohibited camping and open fires underneath and near bridges, as the crisis of homelessness, addictions and mental health issues continues to soar.

Move gets approval from outreach organizations as crisis of unsheltered continues

The city of Winnipeg has seen a dramatic rise in the number of fires below or near its bridges. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

As winter looms and the number of unsheltered people continues to rise, Winnipeg outreach organizations say they understand and accept the city's move to prohibit camping and fires around its bridges. 

"As an outreach organization we have been trying to deliver the message for a very long time now that it is not safe to be building encampments under bridges," said Morberg House executive director Marion Willis.

"We have been in situations where we have seen fire paramedics actually trying to drag somebody out of a fire by their ankles — it's not safe."

The number of fires below or near the bridges grew from 56 in all of 2020 to 96 as of Sept. 22 this year.

Stacey Abigosis and Cody Monias recently spent time under the Route 90 bridge near Polo Park.

"It was cool on hot days and warm on cool days." says Abigosis, calling the place "a home."

One of the signs erected by the city of Winnipeg to deter homeless encampments under bridges. End Homelessness Winnipeg estimates there are more than 100 encampments across the city and acknowledges under bridges isn't a safe location for them. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

But it's not a safe home, according to the head of End Homelessness Winnipeg, one of the outreach organizations the city has been working with to get the message out.

"We know living in Winnipeg that it's going to get cold. Eventually, it's going to devastate that segment of our community and we need to be responsive to find and create and promote available and accessible resources for our community," said Jason Whitford, the recently appointed CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

Whitford estimates the number of encampments across the city has grown to over 100, but a completely reliable number is still being calculated.

Willis says the relentless effect of hard drugs and lack of appropriate mental health and addictions services are one of the major stumbling blocks to moving unsheltered Winnipeggers into appropriate housing and off the street. 

People 'just going crazy out there'

After leaving their home under the Route 90 bridge, Abigosis and Monias eventually ended up in a tent near Bishop Grandin Boulevard, away from the chaos of drug abuse in the encampments closer to the city centre.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people [are] just going crazy out there. That's why I decided to pick St. Vital because it was farther away from the city, (making) it safer," said Monias.

The couple struggled with alcohol, but not the dark hole that has become the opioid and methamphetamine addiction that preys on many unsheltered Winnipggers.

Their camp was clean, organized and safe, but Monias knew Abigosis longed to be in a proper home. With the help of staff at Morberg House, the couple moved toward an apartment.

Stacey Abigosis and Cody Monias get a star blanket for their new apartment. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

The day the couple was interviewed by CBC News, they were given a star blanket by staff at Morberg House. A participant in the outreach group's work sews a blanket for everyone who gets a new home.

"Holy smokes! That is beautiful!" Monias said as he and Abigosis unfolded the bright blanket in the backyard of Morberg House. 

The couple both agree the power of the drugs need powerful responses.

"We talked to our street family and they are like, 'We wanna try to get off it,' but there is another person that comes up and says, 'Hey, got some extra,' and they are back on it again. It's the rotation," Monias said.

The crisis of unsheltered people in Winnipeg continues to rise

2 years ago
Duration 2:56
A Winnipeg couple, once homeless, say bridges are popular places for people on the streets to set up camp. Stacey Abigosis and her partner Cody Monias lived under a bridge near Polo Park, where they could escape the dangers of drugs. With the assistance from an agency that helps homeless people, they now live in an apartment in St. Boniface.