GRETNA – Just a stone’s throw from the U.S border lies the quiet community of Gretna.
It’s where an empty seniors’ complex has been turned into a temporary home, the first safe haven for asylum seekers who cross into Canada.
“We’ve had people coming and going through Gretna and transitioning into Winnipeg in a much smoother way,” Carolyn Ryan with Manitoba Housing said.
There are only 11 people living at the reception centre and since it opened six weeks ago, 123 asylum seekers have spent their first 3-5 nights there, filling out paperwork before going to Winnipeg.
“They say Gretna’s really small and really quiet. They have lots of questions about Winnipeg.” Resident Robin Neustaeter said the community has rallied around the centre.
“Things just started flooding in, it was just so overwhelming and people would call me up and say what can I do?”
Neustaeter said on a regular basis residents come and play board games with asylum seekers, children invite their kids to play at the local play structure, while donations of food, hygiene kits and stuffed animals pour in. Last week, residents and newcomers built a small community garden together.
“There were about 8-10 people from the community who came out with their shovels and drills,” said Neustaeter.
Francisco Penner lives across the street from the centre and is happy there’s people filling the building again.
“They have nothing and it’s nice to help people out,” Penner said.
There’s still a small group of residents that are opposed to what’s happening at the centre. RCMP said since it opened, they have not had any complaints or issues.
“Some concerned residents dropped by the first week or two and we were able to address their concerns,” Ryan said.
The province doesn’t know how long the centre will stay open and for some in Gretna, they don’t want it to ever close.