Mayor, Councillors and Residents Walk the Trail
Submitted by Laurie Nealin, on behalf of Exchange resident advocates
For nearly two hours on July 12, eight residents of the East Exchange hosted a large contingent from the City for a walkabout on the Fort Douglas and North Winnipeg Parkway riverside trail. There was much discussion about the city’s homelessness crisis, the proliferation of encampments in our riverside parks and associated societal, environmental and public safety impacts.
And, most importantly, we all talked about what can be done to address this untenable situation.
Coincidentally and ironically, as the meeting began, the group was engulfed by acrid smoke from a fire in one of the encampments nearby.
All delegates, including Mayor Scott Gillingham, Councillors Vivian Santos and Janice Lukes, and Jarred Baker, the newly-hired homelessness analyst in the Mayor’s office, listened closely to the opening remarks by R:ED Executive Director, John Giavedoni, after which the walk began. During the walk, the politicians carefully considered what residents had to say, and they asked questions.
The Mayor and Mr. Baker shared their views and information about the wheels already or soon-to-be in motion at City Hall and described strategies they want to enact going forward.
The City contingent also included Jim Berezowsky, director of public works, Winnipeg police inspector Eric Luke and fire and paramedic chief Christian Schmidt and deputy chiefs Tom Wallace (Support Services) and Scott Wilkinson (Fire/Rescue Operations and Training), as well as Steven Antle (WFPS Community Liaison), who attended to the aforementioned fire and engaged with other encampment residents along the way.
Advocates Gina Smoke and Mitch Bourbonniere also participated, sharing insight and practical advice based on their first-hand experiences working with people who are homeless.
The residents’ goal was to ensure elected representatives saw first-hand the human tragedy and ecological/environmental disasters that continue to grow with the proliferation of riverbank encampments and truly heard what residents have been saying for four years – money, time and a coordinated effort need to be dedicated to housing these folks along with the necessary supports to move them from living in Third World conditions into homes and a community situation that will prove sustainable.
And, attention must be paid to cleaning up the blocks-long garbage dump that accumulated in the riverbank forest over the last four years.
Looking the other way is no longer an option, nor are band-aid solutions.
The Mayor’s comments indicated he was on the same page as residents. His stated goal was to ensure systems were in place through a coordinated, all-hands-on-deck effort to house unsheltered people with the necessary supports --- and, ultimately, to put over-night shelters out of business.
He used an analogy to explain his position, saying we cannot be kayaking on the Red River. Instead, we all need to be in a dragon boat with everyone paddling in the same direction. His vision is to bring the city, the province, and the federal government together with Indigenous agencies, non-profits, social services, charities and private sector entities to establish common ground and unite everyone in the effort with a commitment to move forward together.
The Mayor shared with us that the City had applied for more than its proportional allotment of funding available through the federal government’s Rapid Housing initiative and assured the group that the City will promptly obtain a commitment in writing from the province regarding its recently announced funding to bolster core-area policing resources.
Councillor Santos challenged the Mayor to ensure necessary funds are allocated to ending homelessness initiatives when the City drafts its upcoming, multi-year budget.
The solid commitments from the elected officials were music to residents’ ears in terms of their assurances they have made ending homelessness a priority now and will be working to bring everyone – including provincial and federal players with their money and related services -- to the table in a coordinated effort.
One resident noted that someone needed to take the lead on that, and recommended the Mayor be that person. He appeared willing to take on that challenge.
Various successful, wrap-around housing models were put forward for consideration including initiatives undertaken in Houston, Texas, and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. Click on these links to find out more:
Subsequent to the meeting, residents were advised that both Bernadette Smith and Leah Gazan, our elected representatives at the provincial and federal levels, respectively, are both willing to meet with the residents’ advocacy group.
So, please stay tuned. And remember, as always … every voice counts.
Consider raising your voice by sending a note with your comments and ideas to the Mayor, to our Councillors, to Public Works, our MLA and MP for the benefit of everyone impacted by homelessness in our city.
Scott Gillingham - Mayor firstname.lastname@example.org
Vivian Santos - Councillor for Exchange District (Point Douglas) . VSantos@winnipeg.ca
Janice Lukes - Deputy Mayor/Public Works Committee Chair JLukes@winnipeg.ca
Bernadette Smith - MLA for Point Douglas email@example.com
Leah Gazan – MP for Winnipeg Centre . firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Berezowsky – City director of Public Works JBerezowsky@winnipeg.ca