Critics pan plan to remove Transcona bus shelters
Councillor expected to request dismantling today
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This article was published 09/06/2022 (366 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A city councillor’s proposal to alter some Winnipeg Transit bus shelters in an effort to prevent homeless people from gathering can be seen as “discriminatory,” a local advocacy group says.
Coun. Shawn Nason (Transcona) is pushing to remove the glass walls and benches from two bus shelters on Regent Avenue in front of Kildonan Place. He will present the plan at Thursday’s public service committee meeting as an approach to reducing the number of emergency calls in his ward.
The Regent Avenue structures are both sources of high numbers of emergency calls, according to recent Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service data, and spaces where unhoused people regularly seek shelter.
While Nason’s idea drew support from nearby business owners, who said the shelters are sites of aggressive drug and alcohol use, others said they were furious to learn of the plan.
“I have not read the latest iteration that councillor Nason has, but I know I’ve gotten calls already from those in the sector that were neither consulted nor supportive of his council move,” Coun. Sherri Rollins, who leads the protection, community services and parks committee, told the Free Press on Wednesday.
She said the idea flies in the face of the council-adopted Kikinanaw Óma strategy, created in partnership with End Homelessness Winnipeg and released in 2020. It focuses on supporting unsheltered people by connecting them with outreach workers and support services, rather than policing or moving them.
“The human rights focus means extending municipal services, and not dismantling and moving them away,” Rollins said.
The issues raised by Nason and others won’t be fixed by dismantling a bus shelter, End Homelessness Winnipeg spokesperson Kris Clemens said Wednesday.
Focusing the conversation on the such physical spaces gives municipal leadership an “excuse” to ignore proactive, evidence-based measures that could actually address these issues, she added.
“This is going to be interpreted as discriminatory, and it’s not going to address any of the underlying concerns that the councillor brings to this issue — it’s simply going to move it to somewhere else in the neighbourhood.”
If homelessness or public drug use is such a pressing concern for councillors, Clemens said, they should be loudly throwing support behind accessible low-income housing and safe consumption sites.
“Rather than address any of the underlying concerns identified (by) councillor Nason of street-level public substance use in the community or of homelessness, the objective here seems to just be to tear apart public space and take away a public amenity from the community,” she said.
The idea does have some support in the outreach community. St. Boniface Street Links executive director Marion Willis said she’d be attending Thursday’s committee meeting to encourage the city to get behind Nason’s plan.
“If there’s a better alternative option, I can’t for the life of me think of what it might be,” she told the Free Press on Tuesday. “It’s just got to the point where… it’s become a very difficult situation. People are fearful.”
Mental Health and Community Wellness Minister Sarah Guillemard said she’d heard about the proposal but didn’t favour or oppose it.
“I’m not quite sure of a lot of the details behind it, but our government’s focus has always been on enhancing core services to assist individuals who either are struggling with homelessness or struggling with substance use disorders,” she said. “So that’s where our focus has remained.”
The WFPS logged a spike in emergency calls to city bus shacks in 2021, attributed to the reduction in safe shelter options available during the COVID-19 pandemic. WFPS responded to 1,770 calls at Transit shelters last year, compared to 1,222 in 2020 and 902 in 2015.
“Winnipeg Transit has never dismantled bus shelters or transit stops to discourage loitering,” a city spokesperson said Wednesday.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.