Warming teepee built by community for Winnipeggers in need won't be taken down: city

The City of Winnipeg says it won't tear down a teepee built by the community to help keep homeless people warm this winter, after the structure was inspired by the removal of previous shelters put up at the same spot.

Traditional structure was built by community members on Henry Avenue after previous shelters removed by city

Jenna Wirch put out a call to community members on Sunday for help to build the teepee for those in need to warm themselves. (John Einarson/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg says it won't tear down a teepee built by community members to help keep homeless people warm this winter — after a pair of shelters previously put up at the same spot were removed.

Jenna Wirch, who spearheaded the teepee build on Sunday, said she was driven to build the traditional structure in a small field on Henry Avenue near the Disraeli Bridge after the city removed the two previous shelters, which were put there by a volunteer in November.

Wirch said that action, combined with the temporary installation of warming huts for visitors at the Manitoba Legislature grounds, rang of hypocrisy and left her frustrated.

"It was this weekend that fuelled some more rage inside of me," said Wirch, who is Aniishiinabe. "I took it upon myself to … gather a teepee and put it up on my own land — take back my land."

Wirch said she was driven to build the teepee after two previous shelters at the same spot were removed. (John Einarson/CBC)

Wirch said she put out a call out on Facebook, after which community members came forward with the materials and know-how to build the teepee and light a sacred fire. She wants people who use the structure to feel safe and secure, as well as warm.

She hopes to keep the teepee in place until spring, and is calling for donations of firewood and additional teepee supplies in hopes of building another.

"It was important for me to put the teepee up to take care of our relatives who are houseless on their own traditional territory," she said.

"This is our land. It rightfully has been ours since time immemorial, and us young people need to start taking it back from the City of Winnipeg."

City will 'recognize and respect' sacred structure

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg said it has no plans to remove the teepee.

But she said the city is in talks with groups including End Homelessness Winnipeg and the Main Street Project to ensure residents' safety, and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service will make visits to ensure the fire isn't a risk.

"We recognize and respect the sacred nature of the structure and ceremonial significance of activities within it. At this time, for these reasons, we will not be removing the teepee," the spokesperson wrote in an email.

She said the city removed the two shelters that were previously placed on the site because they violated city bylaws. The shelters, which were built and dropped off by a volunteer, were considered "tiny homes" and therefore subject to zoning requirements, the spokesperson said.

"It is important to note the difference between a ceremonial structure and a permanent one," she wrote.

Before removing the previous shelters, the city made multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact the volunteer to let them know, she added.

"Due to the fire and public safety risks they posed, and based on requests from individuals already residing at the encampment, the city removed them," she wrote.

In Winnipeg, tiny homes are subject to the same building code requirements as any other house. Builders have to get a permit, go through a conditional use process and get permissions to connect to city water and waste infrastructure.

A new teepee has been put up for homeless Winnipeggers trying to stay warm, near the corner of Higgins and Main. 1:11