Tent communities pushing into Winnipeg suburbs, but resources haven't followed
Workers say the homeless are moving out of downtown and into areas like Transcona, West Kidonan, St. James
Flattened cardboard, crushed aerosol hairspray cans and clothes hanging off tree limbs litter a corner of Westview Park, commonly known as Garbage Hill.
They're remnants of what Shannon Hancock says was an established tent community this summer.
"There was a toilet set up at Westview Park," Hancock says. "Not connected to anything, just in the bushes. There were tents. It was quite large."
The member of the Valour Road Neighbourhood Watch says this was an odd sight for the West End community — locals didn't start reporting signs of homelessness until this past year.
Hancock says she was concerned for the well-being of those living outside, but it was difficult to find the right people to provide resources outside of the downtown. She says it took several emails to homeless agencies and even local MLAs to figure out who to call.
"We have a situation, so it's a matter of taking some sort of action, but who provides these resources?" says Hancock.
"I know who provides them, they just don't provide them here. And that's the problem."
'It's really everywhere'
Neighbourhoods are voicing concerns, but even professionals who work with the homeless are noticing tent communities in more outlying areas.
"It's really everywhere," says Christy Loudon.
"The riverwalk on Assiniboine, in and around the shelters ... all the way out by Kildonan Park. People are tenting anywhere they feel is safe, where they won't get attacked at night."
Loudon is with the Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT), a Downtown Winnipeg Biz group that walks around the core, connecting the homeless with resources like detox programs or housing.
Over the past few months, Loudon says she's also seen familiar faces in Transcona, Grant Park, Garden City and St. James. The reasons for travel vary, but Loudon says many people she's spoken with don't feel safe in the downtown. Others say the services aren't working for them anyway, like trying to get on Employment and Income Assistance.
"You have to apply, then you have to go to orientation, then you have to do a personal intake — this can all take up to two months before someone starts receiving benefits," says Loudon.
"Even then, if ... they're not meeting with their worker at an appropriate time or place for their appointment, then what they'll do is they close the file. That means they stop all their funds including the landlord's payments, so then they end up evicted."
'I don't feel safe'
Mappy Troller has had first-hand experience with the system that she says is restrictive.
Troller has been homeless for three years. She says she's tried to access housing in the past, but there are two problems.
The first is that she won't go north of Portage Avenue, where most of the resources are located.
"I don't like going there alone. I don't feel safe," she says.
The second problem is that she can't bring herself to work with the system as it is.
"When I had my kids I tried," she says.
"I've just been off welfare for three years and I just haven't tried. I miss appointments and I can't do it. I don't know why. I just can't."
New housing systems ahead
Members of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority say they've noticed flaws in the current system, too.
"In Winnipeg, we have our three homeless shelters within a six-block radius of each other, and the resources that support those shelters tend to congregate around [them]," says Sharon Kuropatwa, director of the Housing Supports and Service Integration unit.
"So the resources are concentrated, but the population is not."
Kuropatwa says that's why the unit's Health Outreach and Community Support (HOCS) team is so important lately. It's a group of clinicians and nurses who travel around the city and connect more outlying people with agencies. She says there are also new models coming out in the future to connect people with housing.
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"This is about a paradigm shift," says Kuropatwa.
"This is about seeing a population that has been historically characterized as perhaps problematic as individuals who have had significant trauma ... and for us in health to work with them through that lens rather than through a risk and safety lens."
The HOCS team says they went to Westview Park to check out the tent community there, but police and park staff had already moved the group along.
Meanwhile, Shannon Hancock is thinking ahead to winter. She says if nothing is done to help the people in tent cities soon, Manitoba's cold weather will take another life.
"If this persists into the winter, there will be another tragedy."