Days after a homeless immigrant returned to the Philippines and the elaborate wooden shack he built next to Omand’s Creek on Empress Street was torn down, the question of Winnipeg’s — and Canada’s — ability to shelter newcomers remains.
A national study released Aug. 8 by Employment and Social Development Canada shows that in 2016, more than 7,600, or 5.9 per cent of, shelter users reported that they were not Canadian citizens compared to 4.9 per cent in 2014. Nearly a decade after members of Winnipeg’s tight-knit Filipino community sponsored Allan Par to immigrate to Canada, he was living in a shack made from wooden pallets next to a creek.
"We can’t always rely on family networks and newcomer networks to fill the gaps in our social safety net," said Josh Brandon with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, which took part in the 2018 Winnipeg Street Census. It found only a small sample of immigrants and refugees experiencing homelessness. Only 51 (4.9 per cent) of the survey respondents came to Canada as immigrants, refugees or refugee claimants, much lower than the general population in Winnipeg. Of these, about half had been in Winnipeg for less than five years (28 immigrants, refugees and refugee claimants), while 23 had been in Winnipeg five years or longer.
A real estate agent who took Par under his wing said it was unusual to see a member of Winnipeg’s Filipino-Canadian community homeless.
"This one kind of hit me close to home," Dante Aviso said.
"From my experience in the community, newly arrived immigrants from the Philippines get a house within a year or two."
That wasn’t Par’s experience, said Aviso, who set up a GoFundMe account to help the immigrant. When an anonymous donor bought Par a plane ticket home to the Philippines, Aviso saw him off at the airport last week. He’s been in touch with Par, who suffers from depression and is doing better now that he’s back home with close family, Aviso said Monday.
The day after he left, the City of Winnipeg removed his creek-side shack, spokesman Ken Allen said.
"Once we worked with Main Street Project to confirm the structure was no longer inhabited, we considered it abandoned and attended to remove the materials last Thursday," he said.
The shack inhabited by the Filipino and the release of the national data drew attention to the problem of homelessness among newcomers across Canada, Brandon said.
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"We know it is a problem here in Winnipeg as well," he said.
The 2018 street census included a small sample size and didn’t look at "hidden homelessness" — living situations that may be overcrowded and without long-term stability, he said.
Families who stayed in refugee camps, often for years prior to their arrival in Canada, may have different perceptions of homelessness that could affect their likelihood of identifying as homeless, he said.
One of the Winnipeg shelters whose data is part of the national study hasn’t seen an increase in non-citizens asking for help.
"The lack of adequate housing in Winnipeg is an issue for anyone on a low income or in a situation struggling to make ends meet," said Julianne Aitken, Siloam Mission’s director of front-line services.
Carol Sanders Reporter
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.