Winnipeg homeless advocates condemn vote to partially dismantle bus shelters
Letter signed by over 30 local advocates calls for more transitional housing, supervised consumption sites
End Homelessness Winnipeg is condemning the city councillors who voted to remove the sides and doors of two Regent Avenue bus stops following public complaints about unsheltered people occupying and using substances in them.
"It is clear that some councillors deem people gathering in bus shelters as undeserving of the most basic human respect or dignity, let alone rights," states the Tuesday letter, which was signed by more than 30 representatives of organizations working with vulnerable people in the community.
Last week, the city's infrastructure renewal and public works committee voted 3-1 in favour of a motion to strip the Winnipeg Transit shelters.
Couns. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River), Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) and Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) voted in favour of the plan. The committee chair, Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface), was opposed.
The motion was brought forward in response to Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason's call for the city to do something to address safety concerns related to the bus stops.
Nason defends position
Nason has been calling for the shelters to be stripped since January. He said the move is a last resort to ensure people struggling with addictions no longer use the bus stops instead of seeking help.
"We continue to enable this behaviour by giving them transportation out to Transcona to do things, substances, that are detrimental to their health and well-being," he said in an interview Tuesday.
"How are we doing right by those individuals? By allowing that? I'm trying to effect change, trying to give less of an option to go and do harm to themselves."
Nason said the status quo cannot continue in the city.
"We've reached this point, people. We need to do something different because what we've been doing isn't working."
Last week's committee decision had the support of Marion Willis, whose St. Boniface Street Links group routinely does outreach with people experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction.
However, it also sparked an immediate backlash from other homeless advocates and anti-poverty groups, including Main Street Project, which decried Winnipeg's lack of supervised consumption sites.
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The End Homelessness Winnipeg letter calls the decision to dismantle the bus shelters a "regressive, punitive" approach to the problem.
The majority of people living on the streets in Winnipeg are Indigenous and have been involved in the child welfare system, the letter states. Many have traumatic brain injuries and other illnesses and disabilities.
It advocates for supervised consumption sites as a more effective and humane way of addressing the issue of public drug use.
"The only solution to homelessness is housing; and housing is a human right," the letter states.
The City of Winnipeg must invest in "safe, supportive, culturally appropriate housing, consumption sites and mobile outreach services," it says.
The letter calls for the city to create 150 new units of low-barrier transitional housing with supports by next year, by securing a hotel or other facilities.
It also advocates for the creation of safe consumption sites connected to housing and treatment options, enhancing grants for 24-hour safe spaces, and funding to implement the city's poverty reduction strategy.
With files from Sam Samson