A violent incident that saw a man allegedly stab a police officer with a used hypodermic needle in a bus shelter over the weekend highlights the dire need for housing and more support services for those living on Winnipeg’s street, say some working to help the city’s vulnerable population.
Police say officers had stopped to see if they could help a man seen with a syringe in a bus shelter near Main Street and William Avenue around 3:30 p.m. Sunday when the man became aggressive and stabbed one of the officers with a needle filled with an unknown substance.
A 27-year-old man is facing a number of charges including two counts of assaulting a peace officer.
While the incident is an uncommon occurrence, seeing people taking refuge in bus shelters is not, says Winnipeg city councilor Shawn Nason, who adds the issue isn’t isolated to downtown.
“COVID-19, I think, is bringing it to the doorsteps of the burbs,” said the Transcona councilor, whose been working to start a dialogue with other levels of government over the issue.
“It had been previously condemned mostly to downtown Winnipeg, but now it’s at our doorsteps.
“The abject poverty and years of systematic erosion of some of those services that people depend on is really coming to light now.”
The Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP) says it’s a direct reflection of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Homeless shelters have been forced to reduce capacity over public health concerns, and many of the places people would normally go — skywalks and parkade stairwells for example — are closed, said Christy Loudon, manager for outreach at DSCP.
“It’s brought everybody right to the forefront and I think that’s what we’re seeing a lot of with the bus shelters,” she said.
Started through a partnership between the province, the city, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, police, fire fighters, and True North Sports + Entertainment, the DSCP has been doing regular foot patrols through the downtown since late last summer.
While Loudon says the DSCP outreach team closely works with other agencies and checks in with those living on downtown 24-hours a day, a more long-term solution is needed.
Like Nason, Loudon says all levels of government need to work together to solve the issues surrounding homelessness and substance abuse in Winnipeg.
She answers quickly when asked what needs to be done to help the city’s vulnerable population.
“Long term? We need a 24/7 centre,” she said.
“We need a place that people can access, a place that people can go independently, and when they get there their needs are assessed — that can be physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever it is that their need is.
“Right now, all the social services we have, I think people need to remember we are all non-profit and these are people that rely on funding to keep going. Moving forward, we need sustainable funding.”
And Loudon says the conversation around finding long-term solutions need to happen now, because she fears things may get worse the longer the pandemic grinds on.
“Socioeconomically speaking, this pandemic has also pushed a lot of people who are on the poverty level or line right now,” she said.
“There’s a lot of people are on the cusp of losing their housing or becoming and experiencing homelessness, so we really need to look at what we’re doing as a city and as a province top-down.”
— With files from Marney Blunt