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This article was published 27/10/2020 (324 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
West Broadway residents with front-row seats to the distressing sights and sounds of routine fires at an encampment on the bank of the Assiniboine River say the danger needs to be snuffed out for good.
A woman who lives in a suite on Balmoral Street told the Free Press she worries for the well-being of the homeless people that occupy the tent community, and also those who rent in the area.
She's convinced more blazes, such as one Monday afternoon drawing yet another response from Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, are inevitable.
"I feel like there needs to be more done to provide alternative shelter with the winter coming, especially during COVID, when folks are maybe feeling hesitant to go to shelters, which is understandable," said the woman, who didn't want her name used.
"Going into winter, this isn't a safe way for people to be living."
She has witnessed six fires at the homeless camp in about 18 months, but Monday's was most alarming.
"I heard a sound first, and then saw some black smoke through my window, so I went to take a look. A tent had basically exploded in flame. It's shocking how fast a tent burns," she said. "There's been several accidental fires there before.
"For me, I'm not opposed to people finding ways to find places to live, but there's definitely concerns about the safety here. They don't have access to sanitization, and fires are being kept for cooking and warmth, and that just isn't safe."
Two fires were reported 10 hours apart (4:50 p.m. Monday and 3:15 a.m. Tuesday) at the site near Balmoral School and the Granite Curling Club. No injuries were reported.
At the site, burned and torn tarps of all shapes and sizes provide meagre cover when they weren't in tatters. Scorched propane tanks are strewn about. Piles of garbage, from bags of clothing to wooden pallets to shopping carts to bikes to smashed-up power tools, are strewn in the area.
Similar encampments have been established beneath the Disraeli Bridge near Argyle School, and beneath the Maryland Bridge, just north of Wellington Crescent. In June, the City of Winnipeg removed a large homeless encampment on Disraeli, near the Manitoba Metis Federation headquarters.
Monday's blaze highlights just how dire Winnipeg's homeless situation has become, and the level of desperation people feel to accept any form of shelter, said Coun. Sherri Rollins.
"There are flammables there to provide warmth in the winter. I don't have information on how the fire started, but it was large and it was lighting fuel cannisters up. There were lots of pops and explosions there. It was really serious," said Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), who serves as chairwoman of the protection, community services and parks committee.
"Through tracking from my office, we've had about 85 emails or calls regarding this encampment, with people really concerned about the lack of safety they're seeing, whether it's drug use or the fires that are starting," added Rollins, who also sits on the mayor's Indigenous Advisory Circle and serves on the Winnipeg housing steering committee.
"This encampment is near residential apartments, and the residential apartment dwellers, while they might be very supportive of people's human rights and very concerned about people who are living unsheltered in the Winnipeg, they're very quick to also say this isn't right and they're concerned for the potential of human lives lost."
The city is currently in need of 9,000 affordable housing units, a gap that cannot be closed without the aid of the federal and provincial governments, she said. Meanwhile, there are no safe drug injection sites available in the city, she noted.
"You've got a housing and a drug crisis that are resulting in increased encampments, and no one is finding that safe," said Rollins.
A man whose apartment overlooks the Balmoral encampment said a few makeshift tents started popping up about three years ago, and the site is now at least six times the size.
"I was in Vancouver not too long ago and saw (East) Hastings Street, and this is nothing compared to that. It's unfortunate it happens right outside my front window, but it's very sad. We should be building more shelters for people," said David, who didn't want his last name used.
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Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).