May 21, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
As city police were talking about plans to make downtown safer, other levels of government were withdrawing funding for a unique program that was helping to make the streets safer. It might serve as a metaphor for the confusion and lack of co-ordination that characterizes the poverty-reduction effort.
The Red Road Lodge on Main Street is the colourful reincarnation of the New Occidental Hotel and the brainchild of entrepreneur and social activist Richard Walls. It provided housing for 45 homeless people, including 15 who had severe mental-health issues and needed special support.
They will now be forced into some other housing arrangement, although where and at what cost to the taxpayer isn't clear. Mr. Walls received $110,000 from the federal government for salaries and other costs, and a provincial per diem to house the residents. But the city, which doled out the federal cash, decided the program did not meet its criteria.
It's tough to believe anyone else, much less the government, can provide the same services for less money, but that's the way public programs work. If the 15 people who need special support fall by the wayside, or end up in an emergency ward or jail cell, well, that's the problem of another institution or level of government.
The war on poverty often seems to get bogged down in debates about the meaning and definition of poverty, but homelessness is a pretty good indicator someone has hit bottom and needs help. Reducing or eliminating it should be a priority, but unlike many other cities and provinces, the response in Manitoba has been tepid.
The NDP government launched a three-year poverty reduction strategy in 2009, and then a four-year strategy this year, but it's tough to find evidence it's actually working. The city needs a comprehensive plan that involves all levels of government and the private sector.
The best hope today is the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, which is developing a 10-year plan to eliminate the problem. It's encouraging the regional president of the Royal Bank is involved in the effort, since the private sector's inventiveness and belief in benchmarks are critical to getting the job done.
And that's what is so discouraging about the hit on the Red Road Lodge, a privately driven initiative that wants to make a difference and still can if given adequate resources.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2012 A12