Advocates for Winnipeg’s homeless say that without more efforts to create and offer low-income and affordable housing in the city, the issue of homelessness will continue to grow, and more and more people are going to end up living on the city’s streets.
Al Wiebe, a longtime advocate for the homeless in Winnipeg, said that unless the issue of affordable housing is addressed and addressed by all levels of government and society, then homelessness rates in this city will continue to grow, because so many people simply cannot afford to buy or to rent homes or apartments.
“We have a seriously growing homelessness problem here, and our numbers are not getting any better, and it won’t get any better unless we really take a look at the issue of housing,” Wiebe said on Monday.
In a recent media release End Homelessness Winnipeg, a group that works to combat homelessness and assist those experiencing homelessness in the city, said that two years after releasing their own strategy to combat and understand homelessness, they continue to see high numbers of people in the city living on the streets, and often seeking emergency shelter.
But Wiebe said that when the homeless are housed in emergency shelters it offers the chance for them to temporarily get off the streets, but typically doesn’t stop or slow homelessness, or get to the root of the issue.
“We have spent so much time focusing on emergency shelters so people don’t die on the streets, but that is simply stamping out fires, when the focus should not be on shelters, but on housing,” Wiebe said.
“We’re never ever going to reduce homelessness unless we build housing.”
And Wiebe said he is concerned because the number of people in need of affordable housing in Winnipeg far outstrips what is available.
“The need is so large that we could build houses for years and years and years, and still not catch up,” he said. “That is the reason the numbers are so high, we simply don’t have enough housing available that would work on a low income or a welfare budget.”
In their media release, End Homeless Winnipeg said that although organizations have been able to house more people in emergency shelters since pandemic restrictions were lifted in Manitoba in the spring, that has also led to shelters often being at capacity.
And like Wiebe, the organization is also calling for affordable housing to get people off the streets.
“The COVID-19 pandemic increased the visibility of unsheltered homelessness in Winnipeg and amplified calls for sustainable housing solutions,” the release states. “The lifting of orders and reopening of spaces, along with the establishment of new services have meant that unsheltered homelessness decreased during the winter of 2021-22 to below pre-pandemic levels.
“However, emergency shelter capacity reached its highest-ever levels, pointing to the ongoing need for low-income, low-barrier, Indigenous-led housing options.”
The organization echoed Wiebe in that the need for affordable housing continues to be much greater than the availability in Winnipeg.
“Several new housing initiatives have opened their doors or are in development to address key gaps in Winnipeg’s housing continuum that contribute to unsheltered homelessness,” the release states.
“Yet need may be outpacing the construction of these developments.”
— 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