MMF threatens legal action over city’s handling of homeless camp
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/06/2020 (797 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba Metis Federation is threatening the City of Winnipeg with legal action over a homeless encampment next to its Henry Avenue office, which the federation claims poses an immediate danger.
Meanwhile, those at the centre of the conflict say the Point Douglas area is home to them. As nearby shelters fill up, they would like to see the city partner with the community to help keep the space clean rather than kicking people out.
“Where’s everybody going to go? If they’re comfortable here… and this has been an ongoing situation for how many years now?” said Leslee Cook, who lives at the Disraeli Freeway encampment.
“Being homeless — wouldn’t you rather be together where everyone feels safe? If they kick us out, then what? Everyone’s going to go scattering everywhere.”
The camp community takes care of each other, Cook noted.
As she spoke, people worked around her to set up and tear down shelters, milling between tents, playing music and tuning-up bikes.
“People helps everybody here — everybody contributes,” Cook said. “We don’t ask for much, we don’t do much, and we don’t even do any harm. It’s all home, everybody feels comfortable.”
On Tuesday, a lawyer for the MMF sent a letter to Mayor Brian Bowman, stating staff have been threatened by some individuals staying at the site. Illegal drug use and sales, open fires, indecent exposure, loitering, public urination and defecation have also occurred, the MMF says.
An employee at a nearby auto repair shop said the camp’s presence has affected business and made staff fear for their safety.
“It’s not very clean there. It’s very unsanitary for us here, and it’s not safe,” the employee, who asked not to be named, said Thursday.
“It’s gotten bad this year; it wasn’t as bad last year, but this year it’s getting worse and worse and worse. They had a few fires there and they walk around with hatchets sometimes.”
The MMF letter states it will “take all necessary legal action,” including “holding the city responsible” for property damage and extra security costs, if the situation isn’t addressed. MMF says it spent more than $138,000 to address property damage and boost security around its Henry Avenue office, and alleges the city has failed to enforce its bylaws in regards to the area camp.
MMF president David Chartrand said he fears both his staff and those living at the site are at risk.
“It is becoming a very dangerous place, and we can’t just walk away and say we’ve got months to review this. It’s too dangerous,” said Chartrand. “At the end of the day, you’re creating an environment that’s worse than a ghetto.”
Cook said she was surprised to hear the MMF’s stance, adding those in the encampment felt MMF has done the group a favour by allowing them to stay in the area.
“I had no problems with (MMF) because they have no problem with us,” she said. “What are we going to do to MMF? We’re going to harm them and then come next door and live there?”
Cook noted garbage in the area has been a problem for those living at the encampment, too. She said if the city provided garbage bins, the community could do its part in keeping the area clean.
However, Chartrand said area encampments have grown in size since the winter, and he has raised the matter with city officials and police in recent weeks.
Fire destroyed a teepee at the site in January. Chartrand urged the city to take action to prevent another major incident.
“There’s got to be other solutions. You can’t just close your eyes and then blame somebody else. We create bylaws in the city for a reason,” he said.
Municipal and provincial governments need to develop more supports for those living at such camps, Chartrand said, some of whom he suspects are dealing with mental health and/or addictions issues.
City of Winnipeg spokesman David Driedger said the city is working to address the issue.
“We have worked closely with End Homelessness Winnipeg and Main Street Project, among others, to address any issues that arise at numerous temporary outdoor encampments, removing structures only when activities or living conditions were obviously hazardous,” he wrote in an emailed statement.
“However — it has become apparent that the encampment at the Disraeli Bridge requires further action to address the concerns raised by our community partners and city departments. We are working with our partners to take action and address the safety concerns at this site.”
Meanwhile, Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) said it’s time for the city to dismantle the encampment and clean up the site, which he said includes fire hazards and crowding that could fuel the spread of COVID-19.
“It’s obviously a sad situation that there’s so many people experiencing homelessness, but the city is also responsible for making sure that people on city property are safe, and that’s not the case right now,” he said.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
Julia-Simone Rutgers is a climate reporter with a focus on environmental issues in Manitoba. Her position is part of a three-year partnership between the Winnipeg Free Press and The Narwhal, funded by the Winnipeg Foundation.
Updated on Thursday, June 4, 2020 7:50 PM CDT: fixes typo