New housing a safe haven on Main
Métis federation getting ready to move in tenants March 1
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In its rawest form, 670 Main St. will be a safe haven for an overlooked segment of an already marginalized population.
The three-storey building next to the historic Bell Hotel is almost fully refurbished and ready for people to call it home. What fruitlessly sat as a barren space just 12 months ago will be a 20-unit residential facility that offers wraparound support largely for Métis citizens who are homeless.
The MMF anticipates moving in tenants March 1 and officially announcing its opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 20.
“It’s very very close,” said Will Goodon, minister of housing for the Manitoba Métis Federation, which will operate the building.
While Goodon said the MMF isn’t calling the project a housing-first model, it’s based on that premise. With four two-bedroom suites and 16 studio units (six fully accessible) occupying the top two floors, the ground level is where programs and services like weekly workshops, opportunities to improve mental health and work through addiction issues, and cultural and spiritual rooms will be held.
Goodon confirmed an application list was still being developed. He’s not concerned about finding tenants, though. A 2018 census revealed approximately 234 Métis citizens are homeless in Winnipeg, a number that very well may have worsened during the pandemic.
“We can see with our own eyes that the need is so great in the city, that it will not be hard for us to (find people). It’s a sad state thing — we’re looking at transitional housing and it’s going to be easy to fill because the need is so high. But that’s the state we’re in these days,” he said.
“Until we got funding from the federal government, there was nothing for Red River Métis citizens and everybody was all kind of lumped together. When it comes to issues like pan-Indigenous issues, sometimes it works, but often times we find our citizens get left behind or fall through the cracks when they’re talking about “Indigenous.”
In January 2022, the MMF’s development was one of three affordable housing projects to receive a piece of a $12.7-million fund from the federal government through the Rapid Housing Initiative. Included was the 16-home project for women and children fleeing domestic violence, organized by the West Central Women’s Resource Centre, and the 21-home development for LGBTTQ+ Canadians, operated by Westminster Housing Society.
The initiative at 670 Main St. received $3.4 million of that lump sum. Goodon said it went toward purchasing the property and the renovations inside the building, with a portion going toward the wraparound support that will be provided for tenants by the MMF.
Goodon noted he pursued this project with vigour, in part, because of the possible stain that was left on the federation following its dispute with the large homeless encampments that surrounded its offices at 150 Henry Ave. in 2020.
The homeless population was a safety concern to those who worked in the office, leading the MMF to spend around $138,000 on security upgrades before it threatened the City of Winnipeg to take it to court if nothing was done about the encampments.
“There was obviously safety issues for everyone who worked in those buildings, but at the same time, we needed to provide some opportunities for the folks who found themselves in those positions,” Goodon conceded. “Whether it’s issues that they faced or external issues that happened to them, we need to be there and provide not just a place to live but some wraparound (support) that we can give them opportunities to succeed as individuals and as members of family and as citizens of our nation.”
Indeed, there’s no denying the push to aid the homeless population has seen a great run lately. The project at 670 Main St. is the latest initiative in a line of housing-first models that have been announced in recent months, including the McLaren Hotel retrofitting by Equal Housing Initiative, the mass shipping container development by Albert House and Astum Api Niikinaahk, which welcomed its tenants in November.
“I applaud the MMF as an Indigenous organization creating new units for a largely Indigenous population that is impacted by homelessness,” said Jason Whitford, CEO for End Homelessness Winnipeg.
“We’re all working together here to try ending chronic homelessness in our city and the more parties that have that same vision, will benefit our community more broadly and will have a great impact in that. End Homelessness Winnipeg is fully invested in the housing first concept and there’s a continuous waitlist for housing-first spots as an effective and proven practice to support individuals who are chronically homeless.”
And the momentum is only expected to continue.
Goodon mentioned the MMF’s relationship with the City has strengthened throughout this process, by way of the Rapid Housing Initiative, and that the organization has a couple more housing projects in the pipeline, including a transitional housing initiative for kids who age out of child and family services care.
“We know that our Red River Métis citizens are susceptible to issues that could lead them to be without housing and we are doing our best to provide different housing options throughout the spectrum,” Goodon said.
“You can just walk around Winnipeg and see that the need is so high. In the last couple of years, especially with the pandemic, a lot of focus was on people who were living outdoors. But also folks who are at risk of homelessness. There’s a little bit of a continuum, if you will, on that.”
Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.