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This article was published 21/6/2019 (526 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Members of Winnipeg’s homeless community will soon have a safe place to park their shopping carts so they can head inside for a hot meal or medical appointment.
West Broadway Community Ministry’s Ray Eskritt had the idea a year and a half ago when a woman came in to the ministry crying. She'd gone inside to use the bathroom only to find her unattended shopping cart had been dumped — and her children’s baby photos lost.
"She was devastated. Everything she owned was gone, but it was really the baby photos that mattered to her. And there’s no reason for that" to happen, Eskritt said. "People can’t get inside to use a bathroom, they can’t see a doctor, they can’t go grocery shopping, they can’t see their workers, they can’t see a psychiatrist, they can’t visit their kids, they can’t see their friends.
"They’re basically trapped outside, once they start using a cart. And I just thought, I can’t stand this anymore."
She researched and looked over several options, eventually taking inspiration from bike lockers and two cities in the U.S. that use big metal containers to allow people to park their carts and lock them up.
She reached out to staff at Red River College, and manufacturing technician Tom Prud’homme and his team offered to design them.
The college covered the $10,000 cost of making the boxes, which could be in use within two weeks.
"We wanted something really simple and easy to use ... so it's basically just a box with a slanted roof," Prud'homme said. A local company fabricrated the boxes.
They’re not easily punctured and have a handle inside so no one can get locked in. Two summer students are helping to install solar-panel-powered LED lights on the inside, Prud'homme said. They have locks and people will be allowed to use them for 24 hours at a time.
The first two lockers will be installed near the Main Street Project and Eskritt is looking for a location for two more lockers in West Broadway. Two lockers take up one regular car parking spot.
"I think once they get into West Broadway, across Canada people will be wanting something like this. I don't think there's a solution across Canada for it," Prud'homme said. "I just hope it works. I hope people take advantage of it, and use it, and feel comfortable putting their stuff there."
It seems like a good idea to Roderick Thomas, who uses a cart all summer — he said it’s too hard to push around in the winter.
"It’s a little bit of work, but I just handle it," he said of watching over all his possessions in a cart all day. He plans to check out the lockers when they’re installed near Main Street Project.
Kellen Pratt hauled a huge garbage bag packed with new clothes from Siloam Mission on Friday, and said he sometimes uses a cart. But it’s a hassle to get someone to watch your stuff for you when you’re sleeping at a shelter, he said.
Pratt said he’s been on the street for three years, largely due to meth and marijuana addiction. He said the lockers will be a big deal, "not only for me but for a lot of people."
The lockers are almost ready to go except for one important step: beautification. On Monday, Art City will lead a workshop at West Broadway Community Ministries to create art for the exterior of the metal boxes. The theme is "what a home would mean," Eskritt said.
"We want something pretty. And we wanted the people who use them to know that they’re valued," Eskritt said. "We want it to represent the people who use them, so we’re having the people that will be using them, and other folks that love those people, to come and do art."
She notes there’s an estimated 1,300 to 3,000 homeless people in Winnipeg — and many more in transition — and only 600 shelter beds.
She admits people might try sleeping in them, but said if someone is desperate enough to sleep in an uninsulated metal box in a Winnipeg winter, they have nowhere else to go.
"These are really big problems. And I can’t solve the housing crisis, I can't solve the fact that people on (EIA) get only $4/day (budgeted for food), I can’t solve the weather," Eskritt siad. "But this is something we can actually do. Even if it’s a small difference, it can help someone see their doctor, see their kids, sleep indoors for the first time in months — because their stuff is safe.
"At least that’s the hope."