Those experiencing homelessness in Westman 'greatly increased': advocate

·3 min read

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused illness and death for many in this province, an advocate who works with the homeless and unsheltered in the city of Brandon says the pandemic has also greatly increased the number of adults experiencing homelessness and financial crisis in the city, and throughout the Westman region.

Matt Grills is the director of the Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation, an organization that works in a number of ways to help residents in the city of approximately 48,000 residents, and in the surrounding areas who are struggling with issues like homelessness, financial challenges, unemployment, and addictions.

Grills said that during the pandemic one of the biggest issues they have seen is the steep rise of younger adults ages 18-29 accessing their services.

“Pre-pandemic we had 18 people within out filing system in that demographic who were accessing services, whether that’s things like housing assistance, or help with filling out EI forms, or addictions services,” Grills said.

“And in the first wave of the pandemic that quickly jumped to 41 people.”

And although Grills said they have clients they have been working with for years, what the pandemic has done is bring in new clients, and some that had never been in financial crisis before the days of COVID-19.

“Now what you are seeing more and more is that single mom or single dad who has been off work and are worried about getting evicted, or learning how to apply for EI for the very first time,” Grills said. “They are simply not skilled at being homeless or struggling, and it takes a lot of effort to navigate these systems for the first time.

“The pandemic has had effects on all communities and all demographics, and we have seen a significant increase in people who are ending up on the streets because of financial pressure, and because we don’t have an eviction moratorium.”

And with homelessness on the rise in Brandon, Grills said he was happy to hear earlier this week that a new affordable housing unit is now slated for the city.

During a Tuesday press conference in Brandon it was announced that the province, the federal government, and the city of Brandon will all put up cash to see a brand new 48-unit affordable housing complex built.

During the press conference Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires said that all units in the complex will be for low-to-moderate income families, and that eight of the units will be built to be accessible for people with disabilities.

“That’s incredibly helpful,” Grills said. “We are very excited to see that many affordable housing units coming to Brandon.”

He added the new complex will be close to Brandon University, and he likes that location as another segment of the city’s population experiencing homelessness and inadequate housing conditions are some who have travelled here from other cities and countries to attend Brandon University.

“The location is near the university and that’s great because we have been hearing of a lot of situations with students or temporary students or newcomers having issues finding affordable or adequate housing,” Grills said.

“And housing in that area may not be the safest in a world going through COVID, because in some buildings you have a lot of people together in close quarters.”

Grills said that although the complex will help and he’d like to see more affordable housing in the city, he also wants to see more programs and funding for programs that prevent people from ending up homeless or in financial crisis in the first place.

“We need to see more jobs and training programs, we need recidivism programs so that those getting out of incarceration can find work, and we need addictions and mental health services,” Grills said.

— 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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