Getting people off streets, out of cold at top of mayor’s priority list Gillingham promises in year-end interview with Free Press he’ll use city-owned buildings for warming shelters in extreme weather

Winnipeg’s new mayor says helping the city’s most vulnerable residents escape extreme cold and, ultimately, find stable housing are among his most urgent priorities for 2023.

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Winnipeg’s new mayor says helping the city’s most vulnerable residents escape extreme cold and, ultimately, find stable housing are among his most urgent priorities for 2023.

About two months after his Oct. 26 election win, Scott Gillingham said work is underway to shape an extreme-weather shelter policy, which he aims to finalize before the end of this winter.

“Part of what we are doing is finding out what availability there is across the network of shelters for beds or warm places in extreme cold weather but I’m also committed to making sure that we make City of Winnipeg properties available as (needed) to make sure that everybody who is out in the cold right now has a warm place to be,” Gillingham said during a year-end interview with the Free Press.

The city recently partnered with St. Boniface Street Links to open a warming shelter in a city-owned building on St. Mary’s Road. Gillingham promised to use city facilities for that purpose when required.

“I want that in place as soon as possible, before this winter’s over,” he said.

Council recently passed a plan to identify six properties in an initiative to provide 270 modular homes. The goal is to build units within eight to 12 months of site approval.

Gillingham said the effort will primarily involve partnerships with local agencies on city-owned lots, which should be made available quickly.

“Our staff should be able to… identify, in short order, the sites that could be possible,” he said.

Gillingham noted the plan aims to secure federal rapid-housing initiative funds to support construction. After a year where many people in Winnipeg slept in encampments and bus shelters, he said he shares a federal desire to expedite that work.

“People need to come off the street, other people need to be saved from ending up on the street as quickly as possible. So we have to move fast on this,” he said.

The mayor also recently joined the Winnipeg Police Board, something he believes will help him ensure the Winnipeg Police Service focuses more on crime prevention and establishes a strategic plan with set targets to measure its success.

“At a start, (an) obvious benchmark (should reflect that) we have 51 murders in our city (as of Dec. 11). We need fewer homicides next year. We continue to have a very high crime-severity index in the city. We need that to be reduced,” he said.

The mayor said he’s also lobbying the province to let the city deploy peace officers in “hot spots” for crime, which he said could include Winnipeg Transit buses, bus shelters and wherever else the city needs “to increase security presence and safety.”

Gillingham previously said he expects peace officers would have the power to detain and arrest people.

The mayor will be tasked with achieving his goals with strained resources, since the city is still suffering from economic blows of COVID-19. Gillingham said he “fully” expects he’ll be able to stick with a proposed 3.5 per cent annual property tax hike in each of the next four years and a 2023 frontage levy hike of $1.50 per foot amid those financial pressures.

He also stressed that some investment is needed soon to support economic growth. In 2023, that will include taking initial steps on pricey projects to widen Kenaston Boulevard/Route 90 between Taylor and Ness avenues and extend Chief Peguis Trail from Main Street to Brookside Boulevard.

“I want to move on this as quickly as possible,” he said. “I believe we can get the (cost) estimates done, updated, within the next 12 months and even some of the work on the business case started, if not completed, within the next 12 months as well. Both of those projects are very, very important…. Those are major trade routes that move our economy and move goods, move people.”

Each of those projects was previously estimated to cost more than $500 million. Despite the city’s cash crunch, the mayor has promised to pursue them, as long as a business case shows each would deliver a positive return on the investment.

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.


Updated on Tuesday, December 27, 2022 9:01 AM CST: Reformats article

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