Manitoba

Shopping cart lockers offer homeless a secure place to leave belongings

Shopping carts do more than shuttle food around grocery store aisles — for members of Winnipeg's homeless community, they often become a way of transporting all of their earthly belongings from place to place.

Lockers come amid plans by city to dismantle homeless camps around Winnipeg

Some homeless people rely on shopping carts like these to transport everything they own. (CBC)

Shopping carts do more than shuttle food around grocery store aisles — for members of Winnipeg's homeless community, they often become a way of transporting all of their earthly belongings from place to place.

The problem is, it's impossible to safely leave unattended a cart full of everything from clothes, bedding, food, tools — even cherished family photos — without the threat of someone coming along and stealing things.

That's what happened about a year-and-a-half ago when a devastated homeless woman found her cart had been dumped and her belongings stolen.

"All of her childrens' baby photos were in that cart and she could never get them back," said Ray Eskritt, an anti-poverty advocate and communications and development assistant with the West Broadway Community Ministry.

'Instead of solving the problem we're decorating it, because the solution to this problem is housing.' - Ray Eskritt

Eskritt teamed up with students at Red River College to create four lockers specifically designed for storing shopping carts in Winnipeg. It cost about $10,000 to build all four.

On Monday, a group of people and members of Art City decorated the lockers, two of which will be relocated outside the Main Street Project and two will be in West Broadway in July.

A man holds up an illustration he created Monday of a candle set in front of a cityscape. The design and others will go on the outside of four shopping cart lockers to be installed outside Main Street Project and in West Broadway. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

The roll out comes amid plans by the city to dismantle homeless camps around Winnipeg.

Sharon Johnson with Art City facilitated the workshop. Johnson said the lockers could just be grey and "institutional" in appearance, but artful exteriors may help brighten the spirits of people struggling with homelessness.

"We're trying to create something that's impactful for the community and full of colour," said Johnson.

"You really have to focus on things like hope, you really have to look forward, you really have to bring community together and engage community to try and bring that message forward and look for something better."

The art will cover the exteriors of the four lockers, which cost about $10,000 to create. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Tammy Kutzak lent her artistic skills to the project. The lockers and illustrations aren't much, but they serve as a kind gesture to those with very little, said Kutzak.

"They don't have much anyway — what they have is what they have," said Kutzak. "This is going to be out in the community and make the community look good."

Eskritt admits it might be hard for people who don't live near downtown Winnipeg to grasp the importance of shopping carts to those without a home.

"It becomes very difficult to ever go inside," said Eskritt.

"They have trouble with getting to see doctors or even getting a shelter bed, because once you leave your cart outside that's everything you own is up for grabs."

Tammy Kutzak sketches a home that will get plastered on the side of one of the lockers. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Eskritt believes Winnipeg is the first Canadian city to explore the use of shopping cart lockers in this way.

She can see them being useful in other places, including outside food banks, shelters, doctors' offices, social service offices and outside the Millennium Library. Critics have panned the implementation of mandatory bag checks and metal detector screenings at the public downtown library and said they disproportionately deter homeless and other vulnerable populations from entering.

Eskritt is excited her idea has come to fruition and she hopes it proves useful, though she wishes lockers and shopping carts weren't necessary. 

"I would rather not see them anywhere, I would rather they not exist and we just had a housing plan," she said.

"Instead of solving the problem we're decorating it, because the solution to this problem is housing." 

Ray Eskritt and other created art to adorn the outsides of the lockers on Monday. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

With files from Cory Funk

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