COVID-19 driving demand for Steinbach Community Outreach services

·3 min read

Advocates who work with the homeless and impoverished in one southeastern Manitoba city say that recently they have seen an ever-increasing demand for their services, as they watch more and more people in the community struggle.

“With the overall public that we serve, those numbers have probably doubled just in the last year,” Steinbach Community Outreach (SCO) drop-in centre director Myra Gerbrandt said on Thursday.

“It has just increased immensely, and we are seeing there are a lot of people really struggling right now.”

SCO is a not-for-profit organization that runs in the city of Steinbach, a community that is home to about 15,000 residents, and sits approximately 58 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg.

The organization offers supports and a drop-in and warming centre for those who are dealing with homelessness and other financial challenges.

Along with offering their drop-in centre, SCO also offers food including frozen meals and fresh produce, clothing, coats, toiletries and other basic needs free of charge to those who need support.

And with 2021 now coming to a close and the New Year on the horizon, Gerbrandt said she expects that need and those challenges to continue into 2022 in Steinbach.

She said she believes there are a number of issues that are causing those challenges recently in the city, and in the surrounding areas that they serve.

“COVID has obviously taken a terrible toll on so many people,” Gerbrandt said. “It has just been devastating for so many.

“And now we have seen a lot of challenges because people were able to collect CERB, and when that ran out you just saw a lot of people panicking and scrambling after getting used to living with that money that was coming in.

“So CERB was very helpful, but now we have really seen a downside to that.”

And Gerbrandt said as temperatures have dropped recently they have also seen more people coming to the drop-in centre because they need a place to warm up and have nowhere else to go.

“We do have a population of people in the community who are homeless, and typically they find their own ways to stay warm and survive,” she said. “But now that the weather has become so cold they are coming to the shelter because there is nowhere else for them to go, and it becomes a matter of life and death when it is this cold.”

She said although the drop-in centre allows clients to stay and warm up throughout the day they can’t let them stay overnight and when they send people back out onto the streets it can often be “heartbreaking.”

“You spend all day with some of these people talking and getting to know them, and then at the end of the day we are sending them back out there, “Gerbrandt said. “These aren’t just faceless people, these are people we build relationships with.”

With the increased demand for both their drop-in centre and for the supports they offer, Gerbrandt said SCO is now hoping to get donations in the coming weeks and months of both cash and other items so they can continue to help their clients.

Anyone that would like to make a donation to SCO can find out how by visiting their website at steinbachcommunityoutreach.com.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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