Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Homeless strategy called solid

Governments, advocates back innovative approach

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Darrell Felix

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Darrell Felix Photo Store

Robert Brown used to spend his days wandering the streets and waiting until the Salvation Army's Booth Centre opened so he could spend the night there.

Darrell Felix's days were similar, but he would spend the night at Siloam Mission.

Two men, two lives, but one solution: first get them off the streets into a home they can call their own and then initiate other programs to help them.

Both Brown, who is now in the At Home/Chez Soi housing initiative, and Felix, who lives in Siloam's Madison Lodge, say they have more control of their lives now that they are in housing and off the streets.

"It has helped me," Brown said. "I'm 60 years old and I have my first birth certificate and I have a place to stay that is safe."

'I'm 60 years old and I have my first birth certificate and I have a place to stay that is safe'

-- Robert Brown

Felix, who was interviewed before meeting friends outside Siloam, said "It's pretty hard when you're homeless.

"I now can get up when I want. You get your meals every day. And it keeps me away from walking around at night -- especially when it is winter and it is really cold out."

Both said getting a roof over their heads has helped them leave behind the substance abuse that hurt them in the past.

Their stories are in line with a plan announced Tuesday by a United Way task force to address homelessness.

The 15-member Community Task Force to End Homelessness, whose members include Royal Bank of Canada regional president Rob Johnston, Birchwood Automotive Group president and CEO Steve Chipman, and Siloam Mission executive director Floyd Perras, released recommendations that could be implemented within a year, as well as some for the next four years, which could reduce homelessness -- and prevent it.

'I now can get up when I want. You get your meals every day. And it keeps me away from walking around at night'

-- Darrell Felix

Task force co-chairs Johnston and Cindy Coker, executive director of SEED Winnipeg, said the first year would see the design of a housing registry accessible to homeless people and the agencies that provide housing-related services. Taking stock of housing available for the homeless and starting a proposal to increase supportive housing by 300 units is also included.

There would also be the creation of a formal network of community agencies to improve co-ordination between them.

Johnston and Coker said years two to four would include the creation of extra supportive housing, the determination of how much additional housing is needed, and moving toward the goal to eliminate homelessness by 2025.

"We need to shift from managing homelessness to ending homelessness," Johnston said.

"We know Housing First has worked in other cities... A home is the first step to supporting someone out of homelessness."

Coker said people who are homeless "have hearts and souls."

"When people do not have a sense of belonging in family and community, it is difficult to have hope."

Mayor Sam Katz said he's pleased the city is a part of the task force.

"This has so much possibility to make a real difference," Katz said.

Housing Minister Peter Bjornson said it would be premature for the province to announce any funding to build supportive housing.

"The province will be there to support the initiative financially," Bjornson said. "We will be part of the solution. This is a good start, but the work is just beginning."

Perras said they look forward to continuing to work with the task force. He said the one-stop access centre would help. "We know there are about 1,200 unique individuals who come to us, but we don't know how many then go to places like the Salvation Army," he said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2014 B1

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