- John G
Riverbank Encampments - Third World Conditions
Contributed by Laurie Nealin, on behalf of concerned residents
This month, East Exchange residents decided “enough is enough” regarding City Hall’s ostrich-like approach to the human tragedy and ecological disaster that now defines the riverbank forest in the East Exchange -- from the Provencher Bridge to the far reaches of the North Winnipeg Parkway.
When Mayor Gillingham and Councillor Santos ignored an invitation to walk the three blocks
from City Hall to the riverbank trail to witness the travesty first-hand, residents turned to the media to report the City’s apparent indifference to the encampments and the folks who live there. Photos taken during the river walk with the Free Press journalist are below.
Since 2020, community and socially-minded Exchange District residents have been asking Councillor Santos, City administrators and the Mayor (first Bowman and now Gillingham) to take action to address the heartbreaking situation that has left Winnipeg’s most vulnerable citizens struggling to survive in Third World conditions in riverbank encampments along the Red.
Growing numbers of these folks – many struggling with addiction and mental health issues – live in the riverbank forest without access to clean water and toilet facilities.
Not surprisingly, these sites are soon inundated with shopping carts, mattresses, tarps, and plastic in every form, amidst hazardous waste – needles, fuel, human feces. Emergency responders race down Waterfront Drive on a daily basis to attend to fires, assaults and health emergencies. And, tragically, sometimes deaths.
Residents have pleaded with the City to address the issue, and to clean-up the debris field on the riverbanks that is of epic proportions as the number of encampments skyrocketed during the pandemic.
Inexplicably, the City has refused to do any clean-up -- even when encampments are abandoned -- and continues to claim, contrary to its own Encampment policy, nothing can be done when encampments are occupied.
This document Encampment-Support-Process-Master.pdf (winnipeg.ca) clearly outlines the circumstances under which Public Works clean-ups can be done at both occupied and unoccupied sites.
“The side-effects of (the homeless population living on the riverbanks) are becoming untenable. We are a compassionate community, but the pendulum has swung too far and we have to consider the health of everybody… It’s becoming unsafe and derelict.” -- North Point Douglas resident Christine Kirouac
It does seem evident that the City’s hands-off approach to encampments has brought us to the breaking point. The question remaining is: will our message continue to fall on deaf ears?
If you would like your voice heard on this issue, here are some contacts you can use:
Scott Gillingham - Mayor: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vivian Santos - Councillor for Exchange District: VSantos@winnipeg.ca
Janice Lukes - Deputy Mayor/Public Works Committee Chair: JLukes@winnipeg.ca Bernadette Smith - MLA for Point Douglas: email@example.com