Manitoba

'These people have to survive': City's about-face on plan to dismantle homeless camps praised

The City of Winnipeg’s decision to scrap a plan to hire a contractor to get rid of garbage from temporary homeless camps is being praised by advocates and a resident who lives next to a park where people sometimes sleep.

But one Wolseley resident is still frustrated with garbage, needles left behind at park

Evan Grant has slept by the Red River before. He’s living in a downtown Winnipeg hotel at the moment and is glad the city is scrapping its plan to hire a private contractor to clean up temporary homeless camps. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg's decision to scrap a plan to hire a contractor to get rid of garbage from temporary homeless camps is being praised by advocates and a resident who lives next to a park where people sometimes sleep.

"These people have to survive, they have to live," said Wolseley resident Ray Hignell who lives on Palmerston Avenue next to a small park by the river frequented by homeless people.

"A lot of them are disadvantaged people, they don't have much. That's all of their possessions in many cases. There's no reason that stuff should be essentially thrown in the garbage and have them pushed off."

Ray Hignell is frustrated by the garbage, human feces and needles left at this small park below his Wolseley house but didn't think the city's plan was fair. He's happy it's being scrapped. (Travis Golby/CBC)

But Hignell is still frustrated by garbage left behind in the park — including used needles and human feces — and illegal drinking that occurs there.

"Typically we have quite a lot of action here," he said, adding it's not just homeless people who go to the park.

The city said Tuesday it would no longer hire a private company to remove waste from temporary homeless camps on city property.

It put out a request for proposals in May looking for a contractor to clean up used needles and get rid of bulky waste like tarps, shopping carts and mattresses from camps.

The plan attracted swift opposition from homeless people, those who advocate for them and even some residents, like Hignell, who live near temporary camps.

"This is a huge win for everyone," said North Point Douglas resident Sharon Johnson, who was instrumental in getting the city to reverse its plan.

North Point Douglas resident Sharon Johnson was instrumental in fighting the city's plan. She lives near a spot where homeless people set up camp and didn't think it was fair they could have had their belongings discarded by a private company. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Johnson took her outrage to Facebook after reading a CBC story that revealed the city's plan, met with other residents and then organized a rally in protest of the plan.

She lives near a spot where homeless camps sometimes are set up and didn't understand why they had to be dismantled.

"I feel that if people are not causing any harm. If people are just minding their business and if they're not causing damage, they're not causing harm, what is the harm in it? There have always been people camped along the river as long as I have been alive."

'Where are they supposed to go?'

Johnson along with advocates from End Homelessness Winnipeg and Make Poverty History Manitoba had a closed-door meeting with Mayor Brian Bowman Tuesday where they learned the plan would be scrapped.

People who have experienced homelessness were happy to hear tents and other belongings would be left alone.

"I did wonder where are they supposed to go? You chase them out the bus shacks, the missions are full, they gotta sleep somewhere," said Evan Grant, who's slept by the Red River before. He's living in a downtown Winnipeg hotel at the moment.

"Just let them sleep where they are. At least they're sleeping and out of trouble."

Hignell thinks the city should build a community club for the homeless that has beds, toilets and running water.

"They spend millions of dollars on community clubs all over the city. I don't know why they can't build one for homeless people."

City of Winnipeg public works spokesperson Ken Allen said the city is committed to making an inclusive plan for needle collection and temporary encampments going forward.

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca