September 28, 2017 2:29 pm

Cleaning up the Village: Addressing squatters in Winnipeg’s Osborne area

A look at the mess left behind by squatters in front of a church on River Avenue.

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It’s a big job, but it has to start somewhere. As Winnipeg’s Osborne Village deals with an influx of homeless squatters near businesses and inside of abandoned buildings, individuals and groups are focused on starting the cleanup before it gets any worse.

READ MORE: Osborne Village experiencing a ‘homeless takeover’

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One of those individuals is Constable Brian Boyd, who is with the Winnipeg Police Service’s Community Support Unit.

Cst. Boyd has been with the western unit for years, but lately has been spending more and more of his time planted in Osborne, pushing squatters off of residences and making sure crime numbers stay relatively low.

“We the police have put hundreds of hours into Osborne Village this summer,” Cst. Boyd said. “The chain of command comes down to our unit to see what we can do to help the public, and to help the homeless if they need help. We’re here for everybody.”

“It’s a bigger problem than just a bunch of kids laying around sleeping.”

With a no nonsense demeanor that’s earned him the nickname Robocop, Cst. Boyd patrols the community on foot every shift. A large part of his job is to make sure residents feel comfortable in the area, which means he spends time interacting with people — a job that includes conversing almost hourly with squatters.

“We come into the village area and we talk to everybody,” Cst. Boyd said. “One out of ten is a negative encounter and they may have some issues that they’re dealing with or they don’t like the police, but it’s very slim we run into negativity.”

“Respect is big with a lot of people. Give respect and they’ll give it back to you.”

Cst. Boyd and the rest of the Community Support Unit, along with a number of members on bike, patrol the most problematic areas.

The front steps of Augustine United Church on River Avenue, where a growing number of people are sleeping, has become a concern this summer. Cst. Boyd has responded to a number of calls about the mess left behind: mess that includes used needles and trash from abandoned overnight camps.

READ MORE: ‘Methamphetamine has absolutely gripped the city’: Winnipeg police

He says a high number of the Osborne homeless population have methamphetamine problems, which makes it difficult to keep them under control for long periods of time. In early September, just hours after he cleared the church’s front lawn, the same squatters returned to set up camp.

As Cst. Boyd works on gaining trust of the squatters and curbing crime, he’s also trying to encourage them to find safer places to sleep. But it’s a tough task: the nearest overnight shelter is almost four kilometers from Osborne Street.

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