Main Street Project van back on road after death

Patrol rescues 7 people from frigid streets


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What a difference one tragic and avoidable death can make.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/12/2016 (2353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

What a difference one tragic and avoidable death can make.

It’s been less than a week since the death of a 53-year-old woman on a frigid downtown street prompted the Main Street Project staff to gas up an outreach van that ran out of funding years ago and go into the potentially lethal cold in search of people who are homeless and addicted.

The van and the people in it are already making a difference. Even without extra funding.

Main Street Project calculates their cold-weather patrol costs $1,108 per night.

“Last night was very busy,” Main Street Project executive director Rick Lees reported in reference to Thursday evening and pre-dawn Friday. “The van brought seven people back out of the weather and into shelter.”

These people might have ended up like the deceased woman who was discovered near Portage Place just before 6 a.m. Sunday.

Some of the people were under the influence, Lees noted, and police or their cadet helpers might have taken them back to Main Street Project if the van hadn’t been there.

“So we think maybe we’re taking some of the pressure off police,” he said over the phone Friday, in a tone that sounded as if there was a big smile on his face.

The van patrol, which is staffed by a couple of outreach workers volunteering for double shifts plus another worker supplied by the Downtown BIZ, also found some people who wanted to stay in the dangerous cold.

“They check on them every hour, to make sure they don’t freeze, ” Lees said of the van patrol’s keeping watch over the homeless who find their own shelter their own way.

Maybe they are the kind of homeless people that Siloam Mission CEO Garry Corbett mentioned when we spoke Friday. Those who are sleeping under steps and curled up under blankets and even plastic sheets.

“Which I haven’t seen in past years,” Corbett noted with obvious concern.

The death of the unnamed woman Sunday — coupled with the cold weather, of course— has made a difference in the surge of warm clothing that Siloam has received since then, too.

But it’s the van patrol that gives me more personal comfort and concern for its continuing presence on the winter streets of our inner city.

Which brings me to a heart-warming email that arrived Wednesday, the day after I wrote about the van patrol startup that had happened after the woman’s body being found. 

“People in Winnipeg can be amazing,” Lees’ note began. 

He went on to explain what prompted that bulletin. It was a news story, of sorts.

“I received a message last night from Jordan Farber and his fiancé, Heather.  They read your column. When I joined (Main Street Project) back in December 2015, Jordan was then with Qualico Developments as director of banking. He and Qualico had recently donated a new stove for our kitchen… ”

Lees explained Farber had noticed the old residential-model stove during a tour of Main Street Project that happened as part of the Downtown BIZ’s annual CEO Sleepout. Quietly, without fanfare, Qualico donated a new commercial gas stove.

Then Lees got to the update with the latest news.

“Yesterday, Jordan and Heather wanted to know what it would cost to run our van patrol per night. I gave him a rough estimate. He then asked how long we could sustain it. I told him we are going one week at a time in hopes of finding funding, and also a break in the extreme cold. The BIZ is only committed to help staff it up to Sunday. He then said, ‘Well, we would like to personally donate to cover the operating costs for two days over this weekend, as I hear it’s supposed to be very cold.’ He said he’d drop the cheque off on Thursday. Just like that.”

Downtown BIZ chief executive officer Stefano Grande, meanwhile, sent an email Saturday saying the organization’s  “commitment to help, will go beyond Sunday.

“We made a commitment to keep our BIZ resources in place during the cold spells, until a long term solution is found,” he wrote.

“The long term vision is for the BIZ and MSP to have a fully functioning downtown outreach program, with transport capabilities, through a long term private/public partnership – integrated with long term solutions.”

Grande also said the Downtown Biz recognizes the importance of the van program which is they are  partially funding one of the Main Street Project workers involved and redirecting a BIZ  outreach worker to work with the effort.

So what does it cost to run the van patrol for one night?

Less said they calculated insurance, gas, salaries and whatever else. It came to $1,108 per night. 

Lees and I didn’t talk long on the phone Friday. He had to call in to a meeting organized by End Homelessness Winnipeg involving various agencies, including the police.

The topic?

Cold-weather emergency response.

As I was saying, what a difference one tragic and avoidable death can make.

Which reminds me of another email I received, after last Saturday’s column that also featured a death, this time a 25-year-old who overdosed on fentanyl at Main Street Project. This one was from Wesley Elwick’s family.

“Hi Gordon: We wish to thank you for the caring and compassionate manner in which you portrayed our son, Wesley. We are still grieving our tragic loss. Changes are needed as to how persons that suffer with addiction are treated and cared for. We hope that your article will be the first step in highlighting this need for change.  Life is very precious, and if the needed change saves only one life, Wesley’s unnecessary death will not have been in vain.”



Updated on Saturday, December 17, 2016 2:49 PM CST: Comment added from Stefano Grande.

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