For seven years, Kevin Anderson slept in downtown shelters and binged on alcohol with the money he earned from construction jobs.
The 37-year-old said he didn't have a place to live since he blew all his money on booze. That changed last April when a worker at Siloam Mission noticed his sketches and told him about Red Road Lodge. Anderson has since moved into the Main Street facility to focus on his art while he receives medical treatment for a rare form of blood cancer.
"It's like a sanctuary," he said while working on his latest animated sketch he plans to sell in an adjacent gallery.
Anderson is one of 45 residents temporarily living at Red Road Lodge, a transitional housing facility on Main Street that offers mental health and addictions support to the homeless. The facility was formerly the Occidental Hotel, and the portion of the building that was once home to one of the roughest bars in town has become an art studio and resource centre.
Red Road Lodge CEO Richard Walls said the provincial government stepped in to provide $150,000 in emergency funding so the facility can remain open until March. Earlier this year, a community advisory board decided not to renew the Red Road Lodge's annual $110,000 grant from the Homelessness Partnering Strategy. The lodge had asked for $400,000 to hire more support staff.
Walls said the provincial funds will cover the facility's operating shortfall, but three high-needs residents were forced to move out since they were unable to hire adequate staff. He had hoped the lodge would hire a mental health support worker able to respond to crisis situations, as he said most of the residents come in off the street and struggle with substance-abuse issues.
Walls said there is one employee who helps advocate on residents' behalf, and links them with psychiatrists, doctors or other support services. He said the health-care system ignores the fact that more support is needed to people at risk.
"If we've got people here with real problems -- you know what they tell us? Get them arrested, then the justice system deals with it," Walls said.
Part of the problem is staff don't know the illnesses that residents are dealing with -- whether it's schizophrenia or bipolar disorder -- due to privacy issues. Walls said the lodge needs more support staff to help residents since some are reluctant to discuss their health, including one woman who has recently been cutting herself.
He said another former resident recently killed himself after someone mistakenly told him he would no longer receive social assistance.
"If he was living here we would've talked to him, got him over that moment of crisis and he would've been fine," Walls said. "But he was out on his own with no supports."
Walls said the good news is there is now a mental health worker who visits Red Road once a week.
A spokesman from Manitoba's Department of Entrepreneurship, Training and Trade said provincial officials are working with Red Road Lodge to develop a long-term plan.
Other residents are glad Red Road Lodge is still open. Al Vincent moved into a tiny suite on the second floor in October 2011 with his dog, Hunter, and pet tarantula, Lois, after he was released from the Winnipeg Remand Centre and completed an addiction treatment program. A restraining order prevented Vincent from moving in with his ex-wife, and he said he preferred not to stay with relatives.
He said he's been sober for nearly 18 months and now does all the carpentry work for Red Road Lodge. Vincent said he's changed and has seen the positive impact the facility has had on other residents, too.
"They're coming right off the street. All they know is drinking and drugs," he said. "They come in here and it's a warm place and a warm bed. Definitely a good transition place."