Councillors vote to alter bus shacks used as hangouts
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/06/2022 (357 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A controversial call to remove key elements from two bus shelters in front of Kildonan Place, to discourage vulnerable people from gathering inside them, has the green light.
After hours of impassioned debate, council’s public works committee voted three-to-one to remove the glass walls, doors, seats and electrical units from the shelters on Regent Avenue.
Coun. Matt Allard cast the sole vote against the motion, which councillors Jeff Browaty, Devi Sharma and Markus Chambers supported.
“These are vulnerable people and if you remove these things, you’re putting people at even more risk,” Allard told the Free Press.
Supporters say the change would address safety concerns plaguing the site, while opponents argue it would simply displace homeless Winnipeggers.
The head of a vital outreach service offered a blunt description of how the two shelters are used as she spoke in favour of the change.
“(Each) transit shelter is not being used as housing, rather the transit shelter is being used as a place to hang out and consume substances… We know this because we know every single person on a first-name basis in (those transit shelters),” said Marion Willis, the executive director of St. Boniface Street Links.
Her organization’s outreach team connects them with housing. She said people who use those shacks have told Street Links they travel to Transcona during the day after staying in downtown shelters at night.
Willis said she fears she’ll be accused of stigmatizing the individuals but felt compelled to inform councillors about the site.
“Defending the right of those to occupy the transit shelter, the right to remain there, is more enabling than it is helpful… Ignoring the situation is not helping anybody here and it’s actually hurting a very vulnerable group of people who deserve far better than to hang out in a transit shelter all day,” she said.
Willis said the city should remove the shelters entirely — even the roofs. In his motion, Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason has proposed the roofs be left on. Nason said the partial removal is needed to address drug use, garbage and other safety risks.
He said 911 calls to the shelters are frequent; one occupant fell and died from a head injury and another risked their safety to panhandle in Regent Avenue traffic.
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service responded to 1,770 calls at Transit shelters in 2021, compared to 1,222 in 2020 and 902 in 2015.
“How are we supporting these individuals by allowing this day in and day out… to allow them to put themselves in harm’s way?” asked Nason.
By contrast, Coun. Sherri Rollins said removing the bus shacks would contradict a council-endorsed strategy that aims to rely on outreach workers to assist unsheltered people, rather than policing or moving them.
“Our policy responses are grounded in protection of public health and human rights and I want to see any move this council makes (be) in line with policy,” said Rollins.
She stressed the city must focus on connecting those in need with housing and other supports, instead of removing the spaces in which they gather.
In an emailed statement, the Main Street Project urged elected officials to vote against the change, which still requires a final council vote.
“With the absence of any safe consumption sites in Winnipeg, people using substances will inevitably use (drugs) in public sheltered spaces. Eliminating one or two bus shelters will not address this issue. The solution to homelessness is housing,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Coun. Kevin Klein pointedly rejected the claim that letting people stay in the temporary bus shelters for hours at a time protects their rights, stating the city’s focus should be solely on finding housing for those in need.
“Do we really want to say it’s your human right to live in a bus shelter… or is it our obligation as leaders to say we’re going to help you?” said Klein.
Sandra Hagenaars, Kildonan Place’s general manager, backed the demand to remove key parts of the bus shelters.
She said they spark altercations between the occupants, mall staff and customers, force bus riders to wait outside in rain and cold and require mall staff to clean up used needles and human waste.
“Collectively, we have done our best to manage the situation for over two years now but the problems continue to escalate,” she 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.
Updated on Thursday, June 9, 2022 6:54 PM CDT: Adds photo