Spearheaded by United Way's Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council (WPRC), the newly created 10-year plan to end homelessness in Winnipeg is the right approach and a long-awaited move the downtown business community applauds.
We can end homelessness. There is a way to move forward. This plan -- created after consulting cities from all across North America, considering indigenous perspectives, insights from social agencies working on the front lines and the voice of the business community -- will help reduce the number of individuals who are homeless, whether they are living in shelters or in transient housing.
Now and over the next decade, the real work must begin. Government and the private sector will need to roll up their sleeves and work together to implement the plan's recommendations.
This announcement could not have come at a better time. Five years ago, the federal government funded a Canada-wide research demonstration project called At Home/Chez Soi with the "housing first" philosophy -- that a homeless individual needs a roof over their head before they can deal with other challenges. In Winnipeg, this funding helped over 200 chronically homeless individuals suffering with mental-health issues get off the street and into a stable, permanent home and connected them with a network of service providers to support, nurture and provide accountability. While the program proved successful, the funding ran out. The plan created by the WPRC confirms the need for housing first.
Four years ago, the Downtown BIZ brought its voice to the table. After witnessing this issue first-hand, along with the strain created on fire, police and medical services in assisting people day by day, corner by corner, we issued a challenge to the corporate community. We asked CEOs and community leaders to step up as part of our CEO Sleepout, to help support the work of the non-profit sector, intensify the conversation around homelessness and challenge government to press forward on long-term solutions to this issue. Through the inspiring words and example of Sleepout participant Tim Richter, president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, we showed what cities such as Calgary are doing, and proved that progress can be made and we should not be afraid to set a bold goal such as ending homelessness.
So why has it taken so long to get here? The fact is the community, be it the business community or the non-profit sector, often has the ability to move more quickly than can public policy. That's why this group, a coalition of community leaders working together through an arm's-length foundation, is the right tool to quicken the pace of change and leverage private resources, which government can't. Government administrations and agendas may change, but an arm's-length foundation will survive and continue to push forward.
By endorsing this plan, government leadership has already taken a huge step. It's a statement of faith in the community. An established organization such as United Way has credibility and capacity. The private- and public-sector chairmen and chairwomen of the WPRC are champions who can mobilize and bring these two groups together. No one institution holds the answer to homelessness -- we all need to own the problem and commit to solutions.
The downtown business community believes the future of our city and our downtown lies in tackling this issue. We can make a better city and a better downtown by simply helping people who are homeless in a progressive way: providing a home, helping them keep it and providing support in dealing with their challenges.
The table is set. It's time for government and community to sit down and get going.
Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.