Homeless community concerns rise as temperature plunges
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Daniel Lamirante buried himself beneath a mound of blankets and lay on the frozen sidewalk outside Siloam Mission. As temperatures in Winnipeg dropped to -31 C with the wind chill Wednesday morning, he sought warmth from the building’s exterior vent, hoping to catch a few hours of sleep.
“It’s quite the experience,” he said of homelessness. “(Every day is) long, lonely and boring. You need drugs to get through it. Every day is the same — wake up, go to the shelter… Wheeling and dealing.”
Lamirante, 44, is addicted to methamphetamine and living on Winnipeg’s streets.
Six months ago, he was housed in local hotels. Before that, he was married and spent 23 years working as a mover. Somewhere, Lamirante said, he has two children and a pair of grandchildren, although he hasn’t met them yet.
Lamirante fears drug use will kill him, as it has many of his friends, but it also helps keep him alert and mobile. On winter nights, that can be the difference between life and death, he said.
“It’s sad but true… this is what I do: walk all night, just to stay warm.”
There are beds available at Winnipeg’s various shelters, but not nearly enough, Lamirante said, adding he avoids shelters that require reservations, sobriety or ask patrons to relinquish personal belongings upon entry.
Lamirante carries everything he owns with him. He estimates he spends up to 90 per cent of his nights on the city streets.
He was among dozens seeking support at Siloam on Wednesday morning. A few blocks away, Main Street Project drew a similar group.
“(Every day is) long, lonely and boring. You need drugs to get through it. Every day is the same — wake up, go to the shelter… Wheeling and dealing.”–Daniel Lamirante
Their stories are not much different. People who fell on hard times and now survive one day at a time, seeking food, shelter and compassion.
Tipsa Fontaine, 28, is grateful to have temporary housing, but accesses support from the shelter in the form of food and cultural programming.
Leslie Comeault, 43, has had access to housing since October, but said she spends time on the street and relies on organizations for food, shelter and clean drug-use supplies.
Dick, 54, who asked only to use his first name, came to Winnipeg from Saskatchewan on Dec. 15, and said the Main Street shelter saved his life the first night, simply by giving him a warm place to sleep.
“It was cold as hell. Once you get out of the wind and once you have a fixed temperature, guess what? You survive. You don’t thrive but you subsist,” he said.
According to the 2022 Winnipeg Street Census, there are at least 1,250 people in the city living without housing. The number is a conservative estimate; the true number might include up to 4,000 more, the report said.
Whatever the case, there are not nearly enough overnight shelters in Winnipeg to meet demand — and recent plummeting temperatures have organizational leaders concerned, said Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, chief executive officer of Siloam Mission.
“The biggest challenge is people presenting for shelter when we are totally full,” she said by phone Wednesday. “Every time I lay my head down at night, I am grateful I have a warm place… People we actively love are out there in the cold.”
Environment Canada is forecasting local temperatures around -20 C (not accounting for wind chill) until Christmas Eve.
“The biggest challenge is people presenting for shelter when we are totally full. Every time I lay my head down at night, I am grateful I have a warm place… People we actively love are out there in the cold.”–Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, chief executive officer of Siloam Mission
Many businesses and public spaces will be closed during the holidays, so organizations are collaborating to expand capacity with emergency temporary shelters, Blaikie Whitecloud said.
One appeared Tuesday in a city-owned building in St. Boniface, the result of a partnership between the City of Winnipeg and St. Boniface Street Links.
Blaikie Whitecloud said the effort is a step in the right direction but Winnipeg needs more permanent housing solutions.
The city is a member of End Homelessness Winnipeg’s extreme weather response committee and frequently consults and collaborates with various non-profit organizations, spokesman David Driedger wrote in an email.
“The City of Winnipeg is very grateful for the tireless effort that local organizations, community groups and other key stakeholders undertake to support vulnerable residents,” he wrote. “These groups play a critical role in our city related to the well-being of unsheltered Winnipeggers.”
Due to the way the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service organizes calls for service — which are typically categorized by symptoms — the city was unable to provide data on how many people have suffered or died from exposure since 2019, Driedger said.
Work on the city’s preliminary 2023 budget is ongoing, Driedger said, and he could not comment on how much will be allocated to support supporting poverty and housing initiatives.
Siloam Mission does not receive direct funding from the city. Roughly 80 per cent of the organization’s $12-million annual operating budget comes directly through fundraising and donations, Blaikie Whitecloud said.
The remaining 20 per cent comes from federal and provincial governments, who are responsible for health-care and poverty supports.
Siloam Mission requires donations
Due to inflation, the organization is heading into the new year with a projected $1 million deficit, said CEO Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud. While it typically operates with a week’s worth of surplus food, it has been managing on only a few day’s supply since October.
In support, the organization is asking for the following:
• Underwear (all genders, NEW only)
• Winter Coats
• Pillows and pillowcases
• Long johns
• Winter footwear
• Disposable razors
• Toothbrushes and Toothpaste
• Shampoo and conditioner
• Body wash
• Canola oil
• Soup broth (Chicken, beef, or vegetable)
• Coffee Makers
• Cleaning Supplies
All donations can be dropped off at 300 Princess St. (entrance on Henry Ave.). Opened or expired hygiene products, food and over the counter medications are not accepted.