Manon Timshel believes that no matter what anyone’s personal or financial situation is, every person has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and every person has the right to be clean and to be safe.
“Everyone deserves safety and cleanliness, and in a society like this, there is no reason that all people can’t be afforded that respect and that dignity,” Timshel, the coordinator of the Portage la Prairie Bear Clan said.
“It’s what we are here for, to provide that compassionate and non-judgmental support.”
The Portage Bear Clan is an Indigenous-led initiative running in the city of about 13,000 residents that sits 75 kilometres west of Winnipeg.
Timshel said they offer a number of supports for people who are dealing with issues like homelessness, addictions, abusive situations, and financial challenges, while also doing regular patrols of the city’s streets and offering “non-violent crisis intervention.”
“It is really important for us as an organization to take feedback from the people that need us most,” Timshel said. “We want to hear from them and find out what they need, rather than tell them what they need.”
Recently the Bear Clan added another service in Portage, as they have now opened up a section of their current office building, which is housed in a Manitoba Housing complex in the city, to offer residents laundry services, and the opportunity to use a shower and have access to a bathroom and toiletries.
With the new service now up and running, Timshel said people can drop in or call ahead and make an appointment to use the services on Wednesdays or Thursdays.
And according to Timshel these services are now more important than ever because of the recent closure in Portage of the Portage Community Shelter, a shelter that has been taking in people looking for a place to stay since opening its doors back in 2014.
Because of a recent lack of funding the shelter was forced to close its doors at the end of August, and according to Timshel some of the amenities clients often accessed through the shelter were laundry, washrooms, and showers.
She added they have seen the need for the new service quickly rise, as there has already been an overwhelming response from people looking to utilize it, and organizations looking to refer clients to it.
“Honestly the response has been overwhelming,” Timshel said. “And it just shows that we aren’t even currently set up to meet the demand, so we now have to look into finding ways to making it better and build an entire program around it.”
And while Timshel said they are happy to offer the new service, the Bear Clan also knows that there could be increased issues in the city when it comes to homelessness because of the recent closure of the shelter and because since the COVID-19 pandemic hit they have seen an increase in issues such as drug addiction and homelessness in the city.
“The shelter was an amazing service, but it really only scratched the surface of what we need here,” Timshel said.
“We have seen more people that were in precarious housing situations now pushed into truly homeless situations, and we have seen an increase in activity when it comes to all of these issues, so it’s something we need to really look at and we need to work to find some real long term solutions.”
— 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