The City of Winnipeg says it has no plans to forcibly remove residents of two homeless camps near the Disraeli Bridge as the deadline of an order to vacate looms Friday.
City officials moved in, telling those living in two camps near the Manitoba Metis Federation headquarters on Henry Street to pack up and leave Wednesday morning.
While an official order to vacate gave the residents until noon on Friday to leave, Winnipeg’s chief corporate services officer, Michael Jack, said some still remained Thursday.
He said the city and its partners working to dismantle the camps will use dialogue instead of force should the residents continue to refuse to leave by Friday’s deadline.
“We have a variety of resources who are doing their best. These are agencies and individuals who want nothing more than the safety and well-being of the residents there,” Jack said at a Thursday media briefing.
“We’re going to continue to engage in that dialogue for as long as we need to.”
‘We’re not focused on aesthetics’
The move to clean up the camps comes after city councillor Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) publicly called on the city to remove the encampments over safety concerns last week.
The Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) also threatened to sue the city if the camp was not dismantled. The MMF’s David Chartrand said the organization has had to hire extra security because he said people from the camps are harassing MMF employees.
Jack said Thursday the MMF’s legal threats played no role in the decision to move in and dismantle the camps, instead he pointed to the risk of fire and life safety concerns for those living in the camps.
Fire crews have been called to several fires at the camps over the last few months, including a blaze back in March.
“We’re not focused on aesthetics. We’re not focused on complaints, per se, in terms of how people react to them — our main focus is the safety of the residents in those encampments,” he said.
“The speed with which a fire would be able to rip through an encampment as it was configured, again, is the kind of thing that keeps our fire paramedic folks up at night
“So the tipping point was really recognizing that these camps had reached that point.”
A pair of fires broke out at one of the camps Wednesday morning as the city moved in to start clearing people out. No one was hurt and one person was arrested.
A group of protesters arrived at the camps later in the afternoon to demonstrate against the city’s action. The group marched to city hall, where they briefly blocked traffic on Main Street, before returning to the site started banging on the doors of the MMF.
‘There’s room at the table’
On Thursday, Jack said the protesters need to consider the risk of fire for those living in the camps, and invited them to work with the groups looking for alternative housing and other supports for Winnipeg’s homeless community.
“There’s room at the table for the discussion,” he said.
“If there are groups that wish to be part of these supporting Unsheltered Winnipeggers discussion, they should approach us and we’ll engage in that discussion.”
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said more work will need to be done once the camps are removed, and acknowledged the mental health and addictions issues facing some living in the camps will not have been addressed by simply clearing out the space.
“There are many individuals we know that have mental health and addictions issues, have experienced trauma, and that need will be ongoing,” he said.
“We’ll continue in the weeks and months to come to work with our partners to support the work of End Homelessness Winnipeg, to try to better connect those residents, those Winnipeggers, with the services that they need.”
In a statement earlier this week the city said it would be working with Main Street Project, End Homelessness Winnipeg and other agencies to make sure those being forced to move have help finding housing.
Jack wasn’t able to say home many of the camps’ residents had been connected with those supports as of Thursday.