Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
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This article was published 19/9/2014 (2121 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For a sleep-out, there wasn't a lot of sleeping going on.
On an unseasonably warm Thursday night, about 160 of the city's movers and shakers trudged through downtown streets to get a small glimpse of what life is like for Winnipeg's homeless.
Late-night tours to social agencies such as the Main Street Project, the Red Road Lodge, the Graffiti Gallery, Siloam Mission and the Salvation Army were an eye-opening highlight of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ's fourth annual CEO Sleepout, which supports programs to get people off the streets and into decent jobs and housing.
During a visit to the Main Street Project, an emergency shelter and drop-in centre for chronically homeless people battling alcohol and drug addictions, the community and business leaders were led through a small, darkened room packed with men sleeping on mats on the floor. The tour was led by Kristy Rebenchuk, outreach co-ordinator of the BIZ's three-member community homeless assistance team, which patrols streets to help connect the homeless with the myriad services they need to find work and permanent housing.
"What we just saw was the situations and circumstances that people on the street face every day," Rebenchuk said later near Portage and Main, home base for the sleep-out, which has raised about $192,000 of its original $200,000 goal for 2014.
"To see people shoulder to shoulder on mats in places that may not be the safest is the grim reality of people whose lives are destitute," said Rebenchuk, who, at 4-10, is a tiny tower of power as she works on the front lines helping the estimated 3,000 chronically homeless in downtown Winnipeg.
"The sleep-out funds programs that help homeless people take a step toward employment and transitional housing, where they can make a shift from sleeping on mats to independent living."
Many of the sleep-out participants skipped their sleeping bags altogether, opting to stay awake all night chatting with a stream of homeless Winnipeggers who dropped by the event in front of 201 Portage Ave. for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat.
A homeless man, who gave his name as Brad, helped supervise as dozens of other people living on the streets picked through tables of donated shoes, boots and winter clothing.
"One pair, sir, one pair!" Brad yelled politely at one point to a dishevelled man.
Clutching a cane, Brad said he and his wife, Mary-Anna, had housing about a year ago, but were evicted for failing to pay a damage deposit. He said the couple has been mostly homeless for more than nine years, surviving by sleeping in parking garages and stairwells.
"I survive from begging and by the good Lord," he said. "It's hard and it's getting harder. A lot of people are out here for the wrong reasons -- drugs and alcohol."
A devout Christian, he said the annual sleep-out, which began with 35 participants in 2011, is a blessing.
"The amount of CEOs we got this year is really good. But they should hold it in a colder month. It brings the reality of what homelessness is like in colder weather. This isn't cold; it's windy."
Stefano Grande, Downtown BIZ executive director, said his organization now hopes to hit a fundraising goal of $210,000 this year, with donations still being accepted at changeforthebetter.org and the more than 100 Change for the Better collection boxes scattered throughout downtown.
"That ($192,000 raised so far) translates to about 19,000 hours of employment for the people who need it most," said Grande, who stayed awake all night talking to participants. "I feel we really have to get going on this issue," he said Friday morning, sipping coffee. "I feel there's lots of hope for our community to figure this issue out. It gives us more strength to think about how we can do more next year. Maybe we can raise $250,000 next year."
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