Amid intense criticism from local anti-poverty and homelessness advocacy groups, the city has cancelled a request for proposals that would result in the removal of temporary shelters set up by Winnipeggers living on the streets.
"I’m feeling very excited," said Mama Bear Clan co-ordinator Alexa Legere, a vocal opponent to the city's RFP. "It opens doors for so many more opportunities to help these people instead of sweeping them under the rug."
Legere and representatives from End Homeless Winnipeg and Make Poverty History Manitoba met Tuesday with Mayor Brian Bowman and members of the Winnipeg Police Service to discuss the RFP, made public last month, seeking to engage a company for "the collection and disposal of bulky waste from temporary homeless shelters on public property."
The request met with significant opposition from front-line workers and advocacy groups. Many, including Legere, who requested the meeting with the mayor, felt it was short-sighted and its terms dehumanizing. A petition calling for its cancellation received hundreds of signatures, and dozens of local organizations and advocacy groups put their names on an open letter.
Last week Legere, who does direct outreach with homeless people in Point Douglas and the downtown core, said the RFP, essentially, equated the individuals in the camps with the "bulky waste" the city sought to remove. She told the Free Press the request stood only to displace homeless individuals and to make their lives more difficult than they already are.
"There is nothing more traumatizing than having your possessions and shelter taken from you," she said.
The makeshift shelters have appeared in parks, church yards and along the city's riverbanks, among other locations. They're often little more than propped-up tarps providing minimal protection from the elements.
Bowman said he appreciated hearing from the opposition.
"I want to thank them," he said. "They came forward with concerns advocating on behalf of a number of people in our community, and the meeting was (held) primarily to listen to those concerns."
Connecting people living in the temporary shelters with helping agencies is a priority, he said, adding the city will be working collaboratively under the leadership of End Homelessness Winnipeg to find a more appropriate solution.
"It all could have been avoided," said Al Wiebe, chair of the Lived Experience Circle and a representative of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. "(This meeting) with the people dealing with this on a day-to-day basis should have been held at the start."
Pulling the plug on the plan is a positive development, but request for proposals shouldn't have been issued in the first place and "showed a lack of empathy from the people who put it together," he said.
"It’s not a great idea to not talk to stakeholders immediately," he added.
Bowman said people in the city's public works department participated in Tuesday's meeting.
"They heard the concerns and, I think, they took them to heart," he said.
Linda Truro, the community minister for West Broadway Ministries, said she’s cautiously optimistic about the decision, adding that advocacy organizations need to "keep going" to provide support, security and income-geared housing to people on the streets.
Adrienne Dudek, the director of supportive and transitional housing for the Main Street Project, which also opposed the RFP, called its cancellation "a starting point."
"I think it’s huge the city came to the table with a willingness to listen and reverse its decision, which they could have easily not done," she said. "I think this shows what grassroots organizations can do to create a collective impact."