Pitching in for Winnipeg’s homeless during deep freeze
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When the temperature plummets, people who help the homeless in this city get ready to mobilize.
“We are in a housing crisis, there is no doubt about it,” Glynis Quinn, executive director of 1JustCity said Tuesday.
“(When cold weather is forecast), we start planning right away because we know we are going to have more mouths to feed.”
Quinn and her team run an emergency warming centre at 107 Pulford St. The program, which operates under the moniker Just a Warm Sleep, can shelter up to 30 people.
Typically, patrons use the services overnight and are asked to leave before 8 a.m., but this week — with much of southern Manitoba under an extreme cold warning — some people stay for up to 20 hours at a time, Quinn said.
Environment Canada issued the warning late last week, projecting an Arctic air mass to produce temperatures below -30 C and windchill values below -40 throughout the week. The cold is expected to remain until the weekend.
“Our shelter has been open every night with a wait list of 30 to 35 people… We are seeing people who virtually have nowhere to go once the shelter closes, and we are not prepared to send them out in the cold,” she said.
The story is the same at shelters across the city; many are stretched to meet the demands of a homeless population that, according to data from the 2022 Winnipeg Street Census, likely numbers in the thousands.
On Tuesday, Quinn and leaders from numerous other shelters met with Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham.
“Today’s meeting was a great opportunity to listen to community groups that deal directly with homelessness about what’s working and where we need to do better. It was a really positive conversation and I appreciate everything these groups are trying to do,” Gillingham said in an email after the meeting.
“Ensuring we have a co-ordinated, citywide plan to address the homelessness and addictions challenge is going to be one of my top priorities over the next year… Making real progress on this will require a team effort from all levels of government, social service agencies, public institutions, and businesses. I want to make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
Since being elected last fall, Gillingham has reaffirmed his desire to address housing and homelessness. Quinn said having an open dialogue with organizational leaders is evidence of his commitment.
“The shelter network works very collaboratively, and I think (Gillingham) recognizes that,” she said. “We have an amicable relationship. There’s some people at the city who are very caring and really want to see this work.”
Chief among the organizations’ requests is for the city to increase its stock of affordable housing — something all three levels of government have committed funding to in recent years.
The winter weather response plan, prepared by End Homelessness Winnipeg, that launched in December, has also brought welcome reprieve, Quinn said.
The plan outlines a co-ordinated response to cold weather from more than a dozen organizations and partners, including the City of Winnipeg. It allows organizations to share information, resources and apply for additional funding during periods of extreme weather.
“It’s freed up some dollars for organizations to do what they need to do, and so (the responsibility) is not all on the backs of those organizations,” Quinn said.
The City of Winnipeg does not operate a public shelter, but allows organizations to open temporary shelters in city-owned buildings as required, city spokesperson David Driedger said in an email.
Extreme cold and wind conditions are challenging for the Winnipeg Fire and Paramedic Service due to the increased risk of frostbite and hypothermia.
The city cannot provide statistics on how many calls for service it receives due to cold exposure because the data is organized by symptom, rather than cause, Driedger said.