July 9, 2020

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Province painted as the villain

City, Métis leader point finger as homeless camps come down

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Encampment in front of the Manitoba Metis Federation building on Austin St. and Henry Ave.</p>


Encampment in front of the Manitoba Metis Federation building on Austin St. and Henry Ave.

As the City of Winnipeg removes two homeless camps, it’s accusing the province of failing to address the issues that cause homelessness.

While the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has been a "good partner" in supporting unsheltered Winnipeggers, supports for that population suffer from a lack of provincial investment, alleged Michael Jack, Winnipeg’s chief corporate services officer.

"Many of the supports with which we are attempting to connect the encampment residents are supports that are the responsibility of, and funded by, the province… The city has neither the revenue levers nor the jurisdiction over the areas like health, mental health, housing, education. All of (these) things are fundamentally underpinning a lot of the issues you’re seeing manifested at those encampments," said Jack.

The city has stressed its dismantling effort is focused on connecting residents of the camps with alternative shelter and other services.

Jack said the city chose to dismantle the two camps around the Manitoba Metis Federation building at 150 Henry Ave. because they pose significant safety risks.

"The speed with which a fire would be able to rip through (this) encampment, as it was configured… is the kind of thing that keeps our fire paramedic folks up at night," said Jack.

The city expects the site to be vacated by noon today.

One of the two camps appeared to have just two tents and few people present by 1 p.m. Thursday, while the other still contained more than a dozen tents and several people.

Residents of the site declined to comment.

David Chartrand, president of the Métis federation, recently threatened to take legal action against the city if it didn’t enforce its bylaws at the site.

Chartrand said he was inspired to act due to safety concerns, after staff saw drug use, fires and weapons at the camps.

"There’s no way any human being should be living in that kind of condition," said Chartrand.

The Métis leader accused the province of failing to provide enough health, addictions and housing supports to address the needs of homeless Winnipeggers. "We have a big, big problem and the province is missing at the game," he said.

In a written statement, provincial Families Minister Heather Stefanson stressed that her government has made significant investments in housing, including the addition of 631 affordable housing rental units since 2016.

Another 70 supportive recovery housing units were announced Wednesday, which will serve people leaving addictions treatment.

"Homeless individuals are Manitoba Housing’s highest priority for housing, and we will work closely with those applicants to reduce barriers to applying for housing," wrote Stefanson.

The minister said the province recently provided $1.2 million to expand homeless shelter capacity.


Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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