Reverend Brent Neumann said Thursday the tents have been there for about four weeks.
Neumann said there are roughly 35-40 people who have gathered in the area, some of whom are homeless. Others suffer from mental health issues or drug addiction. On Thursday there were 11 tents set up.
He mentioned there have been homeless people who have stayed in the area before, but never this many. He said a lot of it comes down to safety.
“What we’ve seen is not only an escalation of people who are needing to have a place to stay, but they are also indicating that they’ve become high risk in other areas,” Neumann explained.
“One fellow told me he was wanting to move on, moved his tent to another location, then people slashed his tent with knives. He came back the next day and said he felt incredibly unsafe.”
READ MORE: Winnipeg man describes life as a panhandler
Neumann said another woman told them the only place she felt safe sleeping outside was on a church property because of the risk of violence.
The church has not turned anyone away yet, but Neumann said there are sanitary concerns, and there has been vandalism to the building. He suggested they are currently planning for what the best course of action would be. They are trying to secure funding from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to build a housing complex on the property where the tents are.
“We’re looking at a 10-12 storey building,” Neumann said, adding that it would be a combination of low-cost housing as well as affordable apartments.
Agape Table, a local non-profit organization, currently operates out of the church auditorium building five days a week, providing breakfasts to those in need. That building will be torn down in the coming weeks and Agape will be moving to a new location nearby.
READ MORE: Agape Table finds new Winnipeg home
“Clearly this is an indicator of need,” said Beverly Burkard, Executive Director of Agape Table.
“It’s an indicator of the lack of housing and the social support services that are required by our most vulnerable.”
Burkard said people are attracted to the church because it’s a central location with a lot of traffic, along with the free meals and green space.
“It’s also, I’m sure, the area because it’s large enough where a group of them can be and so there’s safety in numbers, I’m sure… rather than being isolated under a bridge or in a place where you are by yourself.”
Neumann said that homelessness is a problem that cannot be ignored.
“The reality is, this is our neighbourhood. And homelessness is our neighbourhood, and people on the streets is in our neighbourhood. And so we can’t simply bury our heads and say it’s not here.”
© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.