A North Point Douglas community group is reaching out for help, saying growing homeless encampments have become a "public health issue."
While homelessness has been a pressing issue in the area for years, the COVID-19 pandemic brought along an influx of encampments along the nearby river banks — and with it, safety concerns for people living there, neighbourhood residents association member Howard Warren told the Free Press.
"This is an ongoing issue, it has been for quite a quite a number of years, as we’ve always had people sort of camping out and living on the riverbank. It’s just quite recently that this is just exploded," he said Friday.
"We have people who are creating encampments on top of older encampments that the city has not come to clean up yet."
Conversations ramped up after used needles were found near areas where children typically play, Warren said.
After attempting to connect with police, local city councillor and the City of Winnipeg community relations department, Warren said he was essentially "left hung out to dry."
Members of the residents association met Thursday, and decided it would reach out to St. Boniface Street Links in hopes of using its outreach resources to help provide housing options to people at the encampment.
The decision has caused some divisiveness within the group, Warren said.
"I’m not going to pretend that there are not diverse opinions regarding anybody’s approach to what we’re seeing with homelessness, but I simply can’t sit back anymore and just watch this happening."
St. Boniface Street Links, a local non-profit that works with unhoused communities to secure addictions support and connects people with housing, is planning a meeting with the residents association at the encampments in hopes of gauging what folks staying in the area need, founder Marion Willis said.
"We’re not going to drive our van into Point Douglas and start patrolling their area," Willis said. "But what we are prepared to do is to invite members from Point Douglas, that were at the meeting — there were a number of people at the meeting that expressed an interest in riding along with us to sort of learn, and just to sort of see how we do what we do."
Street Links has housed 201 people in the last 18 months, Willis said, with the last four having came from the Point Douglas area.
"If they’d like to introduce us to people that are living outside in the area, or if (encampment residents) are willing to meet folks and chat with them and see if there’s some way that that we can assist."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.