HOMELESS JOE AS A FACE OF THE FUTURE... More of Winnipeg's corporate and community leaders had an overnight introduction to Lifestyles of the Hungry and Homeless again this year near Portage and Main, although unlike those who live year-round on the street, many of the 100 or so volunteers who turned out to focus awareness on the issue were huddled safely together on beds of grass.
Not that a bed of grass made sleeping there a bed of roses.
The occasion was the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ's third annual Change for the Better CEO Sleepout, change for the better being a term with an anti-panhandling message that doubles as a fundraising slogan for Siloam Mission. But there's another change for the better happening in a downtown area just over 300 homeless people call home. Unfortunately, a change for the worse, too, according to Mark Stewart, the Salvation Army Booth Centre's shelter services co-ordinator.
He's been with the Sally Ann seven years and what he's noticed in recent times is an increase in the number of older people and senior citizens arriving at the door seeking shelter and something to eat. Stewart can't supply year-over-year comparison numbers to support his observation, apparently because the statistics-keeping hasn't been that sophisticated until recently. But he's the man who has to fit them into the building's 55 emergency spaces and 180 longer-term transitional beds. He sees "Homeless Joe," the 95-year-old who ended up at the Salvation Army this summer after losing his rental home when the landlord sold the property, as an example of what he's seeing.
"The fact we are getting anyone who is 65 years old makes no sense at all," Stewart told me this week.
Yet, he has a theory that makes sense of what may be a trend. He believes the fixed incomes of some pensioners can't keep up with rising rents.
So it's not that the elderly are falling through the cracks, it's that they're dropping through the social safety net that's supposed to protect them from landing on the street.
But, as I was saying, there is a change for the better in the area, and it's also happening at the Salvation Army's shelter near Higgins and Main.
Over the last two years, the Sally Ann has essentially reinvented the way it serves the homeless and works in the community.
It has added caseworkers, which the other two shelters in the area, Siloam and the Main Street Project, already had. There are three now working with the Booth Centre, one of whom is a government employee. They are the people who exemplify the changing the nature of the service the Salvation Army supplies to the homeless of every age.
"It was, 'How do we house people?' " Stewart explained. "And now it's, 'How do we help people?' "
Recently, it allowed the Sally Ann to help find a real home for a man who had been at the shelter longest. He had been staying in a "transitional" room for 16 years. Homeless Joe, whose real name is Harold Brown, is another example.
It took weeks, because seniors often need supports before they can be placed in appropriate accommodation. It was a Salvation Army caseworker who helped find a personal-care home for Brown.
It's not just the old and homeless who increasingly need our help.
It's homeless kids, too.
On Friday, the day the downtown BIZ was finishing its hoped-for $200,000 campaign in support of Siloam Mission, Macdonald Youth Services announced its capital campaign to build a new shelter for homeless youth.
Last year, it helped 1,645 young people through its Youth Resource Centre and Emergency Centre on Mayfair Avenue.
All they need to reach their $2.2-million target is $225,000.
That's a lot of change.
For the better.
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OF COINCIDENCES AND CONDOLENCES... I was saddened to read of the passing in recent days of two women who coincidentally are from two families who have given so much to our city and province.
Karen Ann Richardson, who earlier this month celebrated her 57th birthday, died Sunday at her home in Victoria, B.C. She is the daughter of George and Tannis Richardson.
Allison Joy Filmon Carvey, 49, died Wednesday, also at her home.
Allison is the daughter of former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon and Janice Filmon.
One can only imagine the grief both families are experiencing. I know, having seen the Filmons on occasion as Allison bravely fought melanoma, how bravely they coped as well.
May I express condolences to both families on behalf of myself and our Free Press readers.