Library, transit top budget discussion at EPC
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Dozens of Winnipeggers shared their budget wish lists with council’s executive policy committee Thursday, including pleas for more social support staff in the effort to make Millennium Library safer.
Millennium for All asked EPC to reopen the library’s community connections space and hire dedicated staff to operate it, including a librarian, library assistant, social worker and three additional full-time employees.
The group urged the committee to add four more community safety hosts to work all hours the library is open. Those hosts are security staff trained in trauma-related crisis work, who can also help connect vulnerable folks with resources.
“The key takeaway is that staffing is the No. 1 strategy for making a library safer,” said Joe Curnow, a member of the group, which estimates the combined cost of those changes would be about $1 million.
First opened in April 2022, the community connections space was designed to help people secure food, shelter and mental health and addictions services with the help of community crisis workers and/or other library staff.
Curnow said even the snacks that were handed out made a difference, since they allowed staff to help calm people in distress to prevent disruptions and violence.
“A granola bar (might not) seem like it would be impactful but the research is clear. It is highly impactful at welcoming people and at de-escalating (issues),” she said.
Curnow described those “innovative” programs as crucial to improving safety so temporary metal detector screening and on-site police are no longer needed. The controversial interim safety measures were added after a man was killed in the library on Dec. 11.
The building was closed that day, after 28-year-old Tyree Cayer was stabbed to death on the main floor. When the city fully reopened most services on Jan. 23, the community connections space remained closed.
While some Winnipeggers have deemed the temporary added security measures as necessary due to the violence, others believe it creates a barrier to users.
On Thursday, another delegate spoke on behalf of Make Poverty History Manitoba, urging the committee to fund further reductions to Winnipeg Transit fares.
“We must find ways to make transit more affordable… Our coalition is interested in fare-free transit in the city… A WINNpass (low-income bus pass) at a reduced rate of 50 per cent is still not affordable enough for many,” said Michael Barkman, a manager for Canadian Community Economic Development Network, which includes the anti-poverty group.
Barkman urged the city to immediately move to an 80 per cent discount for the low-income pass, suggesting the provincial government should be lobbied to help fund it.
He called for the city to make three city affordable housing staff positions permanent and hire four additional ones, while also increasing funding of the Amoowigamig permanent washroom on Main Street.
Mayor Scott Gillingham said the city can’t afford to offer cheaper transit fares this year, with the public bus service still reeling from pandemic losses.
“It’s something that would be a substantial, substantial cost… To be frank, (it’s) not something that I’m looking at in the immediate term,” said Gillingham.
He noted council did approve the WINNpass, which makes rides more accessible for low-income Winnipeggers, in its last term.
The mayor said the city won’t decide on permanent library safety measures, or whether that would include more community staff, until after it receives a report on a safety audit of Millennium Library.
He said he doesn’t expect all of the temporary security measures to continue.
“I don’t envision, nor do I want to see, police officers at our library every day that it’s open. That’s not the kind of library that I want to have,” said Gillingham.
The preliminary 2023 budget sets aside $100,000 for Millennium Library security measures, though council has noted a larger investment could be needed.
Gillingham said any timeline to reopen the library’s community connections space would also follow the safety audit report, which is expected “soon.”
EPC will release its final recommendations for the 2023 budget on March 21.
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.