Council trashes proposal to deter homeless from bus shacks

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A hotly debated push to remove key elements from two Winnipeg bus shelters to prevent homeless Winnipeggers from hanging out in them was shelved by city council Thursday after its key supporter changed his mind.

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A hotly debated push to remove key elements from two Winnipeg bus shelters to prevent homeless Winnipeggers from hanging out in them was shelved by city council Thursday after its key supporter changed his mind.

On June 9, a majority of the public works committee supported Coun. Shawn Nason’s motion to remove the glass walls, doors, seats and electrical units from the shelters in front of Kildonan Place on Regent Avenue. Nason initially argued the change is needed to address drug use, garbage and other safety risks at the bus shacks.

However, dozens of individuals and organizations that help homeless Winnipeggers lashed out at the move as merely displacing the city’s most vulnerable residents.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Dozens of individuals and organizations that help homeless Winnipeggers lashed out at the move as merely displacing the city’s most vulnerable residents.

On Thursday morning, Nason announced he would support taking no action on his original motion and leave the shelters intact, which council approved a few hours later.

“I was misinformed and I’m sorry for the harms that I’ve caused. That’s why I’m working collaboratively with (Coun. Sherri Rollins) to try to move forward to find answers, to find solutions. We can’t leave these individuals that are in these situations to languish for more and more time,” Nason told a few dozen people who rallied against the motion outside city hall.

His voice at times cracking with emotion, the councillor told protestors waving signs with the messages “bus shelters save lives” and “unsheltered relatives deserve dignity” that the public backlash against dismantling bus shelters convinced him it was wrong.

One participant in the demonstration said the motion sparked great concern among many Indigenous organizations, since they represent Winnipeggers who are overrepresented in the homeless population.

“We’re in the middle of Treaty 1 territory and our people have no belonging here … They don’t even have belonging in bus shacks,” said Cora Morgan, a family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

She urged the city to focus on supplying more affordable housing and partner with senior governments if it can’t afford to address the issue alone.

“The issues are on the streets of Winnipeg, our city council have an obligation to address it. If they don’t have the resources to do it and they believe that it’s a provincial or federal responsibility, then they should be bringing the three governments together to get the investment and implement the actions,” said Morgan.

Nason said his motion was inspired after three people died at the site of the shelters over the past two years, including one killed by a drug overdose, one who suffered a fatal fall and another involved in a car accident. St. Boniface Street Links originally supported Nason’s motion over the safety concerns before also publicly reversing its position.

Rollins and Nason raised a new motion Thursday, which instead asks the city’s public service to develop options to: create at least 150 low-barrier housing units specifically aimed at provide housing for those “sleeping rough” or staying at encampments and/or bus shelters; establish safe drug consumption sites and mobile housing/addictions supports; extend grants for outreach groups that serve the homeless; and fund other anti-poverty initiatives.

Council will debate that proposal in July and could seek funding through the 2023 budget process to support it. The motion also calls to engage the provincial government on the work.

Nason said work is needed to address safety concerns at the bus shacks for people who ride the bus or go to the shopping centre.

Rollins credited those who strongly opposed the motion with triggering the changes.

“We’re a stronger council when you come forward and help us,” she told participants at the morning rally.

Mayor Brian Bowman said he was glad to see Nason back away from the bus shelter motion.

“It’s the right thing to do. We’ve heard loud and clear from the community that removing transit shelters as a means to combat homelessness is really wrong on so many levels,” said Bowman.

Late Thursday afternoon, council cast a near unanimous vote to take no action on the shelter dismantling proposal, with only Coun. Jeff Browaty opposed.

“Winnipeggers deserve to be safe in their communities and in their neighbourhoods. The trip to the mall shouldn’t be fraught with people fighting at a bus stop … they’re not well, I understand that, they need supports. But they can’t be at the bus stop,” said Browaty, during Thursday’s council meeting.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

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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