Move to strip bus shacks stalls at EPC level


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A controversial call to strip key elements from two Winnipeg bus shelters in an effort to deter members of the homeless population was rejected by the executive policy committee Wednesday — though city council will still have the final say.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/06/2022 (286 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A controversial call to strip key elements from two Winnipeg bus shelters in an effort to deter members of the homeless population was rejected by the executive policy committee Wednesday — though city council will still have the final say.

The matter triggered hours of intense debate at city hall over the past week. On June 9, a majority of the public works committee supported the call to remove the glass walls, doors, seats and electrical units from the shelters in front of Kildonan Place on Regent Avenue.

The initial public works vote to support the change followed pleas from the shopping mall’s management, St. Boniface Street Links (which works with homeless and vulnerable Winnipeggers) and Coun. Shawn Nason, who represents the area.

Nason said the change is needed to address drug use, garbage and other safety risks plaguing the Transit bus shacks.

However, EPC heard a starkly different view repeated many times Wednesday, as more than a dozen delegates made impassioned pleas to keep the shelters intact.

Many of the delegates, several of whom represented organizations that support homeless Winnipeggers, argued pushing people out of bus shacks will simply marginalize and stigmatize the city’s most vulnerable residents.

“The (message) that it sends is that people who are experiencing homelessness are not as worthy as others of walls or benches to sit (on),” said Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, chief executive officer of Siloam Mission.

Blaikie Whitecloud told council members people her organization supports have said bus shelters allowed them to escape the bitter cold in the past when they felt they had no other options, a refuge the proposed changes would eliminate.

“I urge you to treat people with dignity and respect and to let them know that they are worthy and to not take this punitive action that asks us to push people further out of sight,” she said.

Others railed against the view allowing people to stay in bus shelters makes it appear as though they are defending the right to live in substandard conditions.

“No one is arguing that living in a tent or a bus shack is a right. It is a physical manifestation of the violation of one’s human right to adequate housing,” said Kris Clemens, manager of communications and community relations for End Homelessness Winnipeg.

Several delegates urged the city to invest in housing, safe drug consumption sites and other programs.

“If we don’t offer people avenues to use (drugs) safely… they will use in public spaces, including bus shelters. Dismantling one or two won’t change that,” said Lorie English, executive director of the West Central Women’s Resource Centre.

Charlie Eau is the assistant director of community services for the resource centre (and uses they/them pronouns). Eau said firsthand experience with homelessness convinced them the idea to dismantle the shelters is “radical” and would simply displace those in need who have nowhere else to go.

“People are not living in bus shelters at the mall because they want to be,” said Eau.

On Wednesday evening, EPC members voted 6-1 against dismantling the Transit shelters.

Mayor Brian Bowman joined Couns. Sherri Rollins, Cindy Gilroy, Matt Allard, Brian Mayes and Markus Chambers to reject the idea; while Coun. Jeff Browaty supported it.

Browaty told media he views it as an “emergency” measure needed to support a major commercial hub in Winnipeg.

“We’re frustrated with the level of homelessness and it seems to be getting worse, not better. I think the response from the public works committee about removing the bus shelters is part of that general frustration at the growth of homelessness and addiction issues that we’re seeing more visibly all the time in the city,” said Browaty.

The North Kildonan councillor said the site is marked by violent incidents at times, sparking concern for both residents and tourists.

“I hate to be crass, but sometimes you have to manage the homelessness issues a little bit in terms of where they are. It’s not nice to put it that way, but that has to be the reality,” he said.

The mayor said there’s a clear need for greater supports to address homelessness, mental health and addictions, which fall under provincial jurisdiction. He believes the city should focus on securing support for those efforts, instead of altering places where homeless people may gather.

“I think closing a bus shack in an effort to move people out of sight and out of mind is not going to provide them with the health-care services that they require. That’s why we’ve invested in 24-7 safe spaces, that’s why we’ve invested in (city grants for outreach) van service, so we can help connect people to the supports and services that they need,” said Bowman, who is not seeking a third term in the October municipal election.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

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.

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