Residents in a long-term homeless encampment off the Disraeli Freeway adjacent to the Manitoba Metis Federation’s headquarters slowly packed up their belongings and moved off the plot of civic-owned land Friday after the city served them with formal eviction notices Wednesday.
The city moved to have the Disraeli camp and a neighbouring camp on Austin Street dismantled following a legal threat from the MMF, although city officials and service provider Main Street Project cited fire safety concerns.
“We need more housing, we need more space, but we also don’t want people to die. That’s all this was about,” said Rick Lees, Main Street Project’s executive director, adding that the camp’s residents had encircled tents together and wrapped the tents in other materials.
“From a fire and safety standpoint, if that was ignited, there was no exit, there was no way out, and people were going to die,” Lees said.
The city’s decision to remove the camps and the people who lived there faced protests Wednesday, while at least one resident set debris ablaze.
Meanwhile, the camp’s residents left the plot of land peacefully Friday — some to enter the shelter system, while others pitched their tents elsewhere.
“People are in decent moods and up-tempo, we’re moving forward on moving on from this location,” said Robert Russell, a 55-year-old man who has lived in the Disraeli camp since last December.
“Everyone’s going to generally be ok, everyone’s fine — we’re resilient people, we’ve lived out here, and we’ll continue to live amongst this neighbourhood.”
Russell decided to live outside after he moved back to Winnipeg and briefly stayed in the downtown core’s shelters.
“I ended up in the shelter system, went through that, saw what the shelter was actually providing and saw problems there,” he said.
Russell had hoped to pay for a place to stay through the province’s employment and income assistance program, but couldn’t find a rental he found safe — pointing his finger at run-down Main Street and West End hotels.
“I stayed with a friend who lived in one of these hotels and the door didn’t lock, there was a hole this big between him and his neighbour, the neighbour could actually crawl through the wall,” he said, gesturing with his arms.
Russell wants to see authorities do more to help the city’s vulnerable.
“Things need to be changed and we’re hoping that through all of this, there will continue to be some more talks about revamping and reorganizing the whole system,” he said.