People in Winnipeg homeless camp persevere through heavy snow, cold winds

A day after the first snowstorm of the season started cutting across southern Manitoba, people living in homeless camps in Winnipeg have had to find ways to deal with the thick blanket of snow suddenly draped over their communities.

‘It would be nice to get some help from people,’ says resident Joseph Tulloch

Smiley Mousseau piles up snow from the storm that hammered Winnipeg this week to try to block the wind out of his shelter at a downtown Winnipeg homeless camp. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

Late Friday afternoon at a homeless camp set up just off Winnipeg's Disraeli Freeway, Joseph Tulloch needs to clear a path in the snow so his wife, Jen Van Huit, can get around in her wheelchair.

Tulloch, 46, bounds across the camp in a pair of sneakers, up to his ankles in sticky, wet snow as he tries to track down the one shovel shared between everyone in the camp.

Across the field, Tulloch finds his neighbour, Smiley Mousseau, using the shovel to build up a heavy, snowy barricade around his tent to try to keep the wind out.

"I already have enough on the one side. It's like insulation," Mousseau, 59, says as he piles up snow around the shelter made of bed sheets, tarps and tree branches that he's been living in for two months. "Just trying to make sure there's no wind coming in, [so] it's just dry in there."

A day after the first snowstorm of the season started cutting across southern Manitoba, people living in homeless camps in Winnipeg have had to find ways to deal with the thick blanket of snow suddenly draped over their communities.

'Gonna be a cold winter'

At the Disraeli camp on Friday, Tulloch gets to work to make sure his wife is able to move around their small camp in her wheelchair, sometimes clearing a path in front of her with the shovel, sometimes pushing her through the thick snow himself.

"He's my husky," Van Huit says, laughing. "The snow is just basically what's stopping me from moving from point A to point B."

Jen Van Huit and Joseph Tulloch are two residents at a downtown Winnipeg homeless camp hoping the snowstorm bombarding southern Manitoba lets up soon. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

The couple have been married for nine years, and have lived in the Disraeli camp for about eight months. Van Huit, 42, says there are always challenges that come with living outside, but the early October snowstorm is starting to take its toll.

"I'm starting to dread the fact that I'm out here now," she says. "It's not as if I can't handle it, because I can — it's just difficult for me to get around right now."

Tulloch says the early snowfall was a surprise, but he doesn't think things will get any easier once winter settles in.

"It's very tough," he says. "It's gonna be a cold winter. There's lots of homeless out there that don't have winter stuff. Like me, I don't have winter boots. Neither does she. It would be nice to get some help from people."

Bringing the shelter to them

While there are shelters in Winnipeg where people experiencing homelessness can sleep, many don't feel comfortable there — that's why resources like Main Street Project's van patrol are so crucial right now, says Adrienne Dudek, Main Street Project's director of housing.

"Although there's enough shelter space for everyone, we have to acknowledge that there's a lot of people for many reasons that don't access shelters," said Dudek. 

"So it's really important that we go out in the community and we find those people, and we see if we can do well-being checks or bring items to them."

People at this homeless camp near Disraeli Freeway in downtown Winnipeg are finding ways to deal with the thick, heavy snow suddenly covering their shelters. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

Dudek says the van patrol crew, which serves an average of 100 people every night, gives people things like sandwiches, hot coffee or even medical attention if they need it. But it's the connections they make that people often benefit the most from.

"Sometimes, the biggest relationship builder is just that somebody knows somebody is coming to check on them," she said. "And that relationship piece that we leverage can sometimes move mountains."

Dudek says Main Street Project is seeking donations of items like jackets, sweats and blankets. The centre is also trying to collect 20,000 pairs of socks by the end of the month as part of its annual Socktober campaign.

With files from Erin Brohman


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