Accessible van a 'game changer' for Main Street Project, executive director says

Winnipeg's Main Street Project has a new accessible van to help it serve people on the streets, regardless of their abilities.
The Main Street Project's new van cost about $82,000, which was paid for in part by a federal funding program administered through the City of Winnipeg. (Main Street Project)

Winnipeg's Main Street Project has a new set of wheels to help it serve people on the streets, regardless of their abilities.

The organization, which provides shelter and support to homeless Winnipeggers, unveiled a new accessible van as part of its van patrol program last month.

"I think it means that it's another way of reaching people where they are, and getting them into safety where they can [have] access to not just shelter, but access to mental health supports, addiction supports and other supports," said Rick Lees, executive director of Main Street Project..

The $82,000 vehicle received funding from the federal Homelessness Partnering Strategy, which provided money to the City of Winnipeg to direct to local programs, Lees said.

The vehicle, which was modified for the purpose by Winnipeg firm MoveMobility, can seat two people in wheelchairs in addition to seven other passengers, Lees said. It's equipped with a defibrillator and emergency supplies as well as coffee, clothing and shoes for clients on the street.

Lees said the idea for the ride came out of another van the shelter put on the streets last year, operating the service without any external funding. That van wasn't accessible, and it was hard to serve people with mobility issues, Lees said.

"Winnipeg responded. The donations alone in that winter funded the cost of the van and sort of helped position us to make a proper application for funding," Lees said. "So this is a game changer for us, for sure."

Previously, people in need would have to leave their wheelchairs to sit in the van, and then stow the chair alongside them, Lees said. If that wasn't possible, workers would have to call fire paramedic services to properly transport them.

"That's not the ideal, particularly in difficult weather circumstances," Lees said.

Main Street Project uses the van in multiple ways, Lees said, ranging from emergency extreme weather responses —when temperatures drop below –10 C or rise above 30 C — to transportation for clients.

Staff also use it to do nightly street checks and as a back-up for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, which can call the van if an individual is deemed not to require police or medical attention.

People who use the van are offered shelter but also other services, Lees said.

"Shelter is one component of this piece," he said. "But the other is the ability to really reach people where we can address the underlying issue that brought them to homelessness in the first place."

With files from Ismaila Alfa and Janice Grant