Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tents provide shelter for homeless

Group camps together for security purposes

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Michel, who is homeless and five months pregnant, says none of the people in the tent camp at Austin and Henry can afford low-income housing.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Michel, who is homeless and five months pregnant, says none of the people in the tent camp at Austin and Henry can afford low-income housing. Photo Store

THEY say they're homeless and have nowhere else to go. The shelter is too expensive and when they sleep on the field in front of Thunderbird House, they get kicked out by police.

So they set up their tents on a property across the street and are staying there as long as they can.

Roughly eight tents are on the field on the corner of Austin Street and Henry Avenue. Some of the tents are sideways, some are not pitched. In between them are mattresses, shopping carts and bicycles. Scraps of bread lie in the field around them. The cleaner pieces get picked up and eaten. A locked trailer stands in the field, and several people sit underneath it in the shade.

Daniel, who would only reveal his first name, said most of the people in the makeshift camp were at the Salvation Army across the street. But he said those who live there get half their benefits taken in order to pay for meals and housing. For that and other reasons, Daniel said they can't stay at the Salvation Army.

"Not all of us fit into their restrictions," he said.

And housing is out of the question, too. Michel, another resident who only wanted to give her first name, said none of the people in the camp can afford low-income housing.

"It's hard to find housing, and when you do, it's too expensive," she said.

Michel is five months pregnant and has been homeless for about five years, she said. In that time she's fought solvent-abuse addiction, among other things.

Daniel said the group chose to camp together for safety reasons. While one tent might be vulnerable to attack or robbery, several tents together can be guarded more easily.

"That way there's more of us here. Strength in numbers," he said.

Sean Goulet, director of the Lighthouse Mission, said the camp is not unusual, especially for this time of the year.

"Only when it's cold it doesn't happen that much. It's more of a seasonal thing," he said.

But in the warm summer months, he says he sees people camp out in the area a lot. Most of the people at the camp he knows by name, including Daniel and Michel.

And while the group may be safer camping together, Goulet said they're still not safe. Ideally, he said, they wouldn't be camped out there, but he understands that sometimes there isn't a choice.

"If they didn't have to live there, they wouldn't," Goulet said.

For the time being, the campers will be there as long as they can, Michel said. Occasionally the group will get yelled at by people passing them, and Michel said she feels judged by many who see her.

"Instead of judging us, why not help us," she said.

Goulet said he's planning on organizing a community barbeque on Saturday that he hopes the campers will attend. It's not much, he said, but with the complex issues the people there face, it can be hard figuring out how to help.

"There's obviously something that needs to be said or done, (but) for anybody that wants to help there's no one solution," Goulet said.

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2013 A3

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