More 24/7 safe spaces needed for Winnipeg’s homeless: report

File. Chris Chacon/Global News

A new report headed to a city hall committee this week said Winnipeg needs to open more 24/7 safe spaces to help out the city’s most vulnerable.

The report follows work done by the Kíkinanaw Óma: Strategy to Support Unsheltered Winnipeggers (KOS) which was put together by the group End Homeless Winnipeg.

“Winnipeg is experiencing an escalating housing emergency,” the report stated.

“Temporary encampments and unsheltered homelessness are the most visible symptoms of the crisis.”

Read more: More homeless camps popping up in Winnipeg as others get torn down

The 34-page report is set to be presented to the Standing Policy Committee on Protection, Community Services and Parks meeting at City Hall later this week.

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The report offered up six recommendations to help support individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness — including housing and breaking down barriers to emergency shelters.

The 2018 Street Census reached 1,519 individuals experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg. Of those who responded, 204 identified as living unsheltered, 392 were housed in emergency shelters, and 895 were provisionally accommodated.

The KOS report said there are just over 500 emergency shelters beds for adults, youth, and families.

“Emergency shelters are a crucial component of the support network for individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness,” the report said.

However, it also said there are too many barriers that prevent people from actually accessing these spaces like being at capacity, having restrictions on pets, belongings or alcohol, separating couples, or requiring a too detailed intake process.

The report noted it’s one reason for the increase in homeless encampments that have popped up around Winnipeg in recent months.

Read more: Fires, protest around Winnipeg homeless camps as city moves people out

It also said there are not enough diverse shelter options in Winnipeg. The report noted that there are currently no Indigenous shelters, women’s only shelters, or 2SLGBTQ+ specific shelters.

“This remains a significant gap for these particular communities. It is important to identify that Indigenous people specifically, are underrepresented in the cohort that access emergency shelters.”

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The report said moving forward, there needs to be significant work from all levels of government to help fix the situation, but it set out an number of recommendations the City of Winnipeg could do specifically:

  1. Examine new or different ways to support the creation of affordable housing through planning, policy, regulatory, and financial instruments under the legislative authority of the City to facilitate affordable housing development options.
  2.  Open 24/7 safe spaces. The City has already started this work with the July 2020 launch of a 24/7 Safe Space Grant Program which will allocate one million dollars over four years to provide safe space supports and services to key priority groups in Winnipeg.
  3. As a city, continue to take part in, and work with, the Unsheltered Winnipeggers Strategy Group to ensure the continuation of the interim strategy and a right-based approach to supporting encampments, while also supporting the ongoing implementation of the strategy.

The report will be discussed at City Hall on Friday, Sept. 18.

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