Housing supports key to revitalizing downtown


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Providing a place to live for everyone who needs one will make downtown safer for everyone.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/10/2022 (233 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Providing a place to live for everyone who needs one will make downtown safer for everyone.

Homelessness puts people at risk for experiencing violence. The Winnipeg Street Health Survey conducted by End Homelessness Winnipeg in 2018 found almost half (48.2 per cent) of those experiencing homelessness in the capital city had been physically attacked in the preceding 12 months.

It’s no wonder their topmost reason for visiting an emergency department was injury. The safety of people who are unsheltered is compromised, making them easy targets for crime and violence.

Safety in Winnipeg’s downtown can be improved by providing more lighting; promoting activities that generate human traffic, such as concerts, games, reopening of businesses and working from the office; and resourcing neighbourhood safety and outreach teams to walk through downtown and provide adequate basic need items.

But considering the perils associated with homelessness and the over-representation of Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness (66 per cent, according to the 2021 Interim Street Census), there is a need for Indigenous-led low-barrier housing in the heart of the city.

N’Dinawemak – Our Relatives’ Place – is an important first step. This Indigenous-led 24/7 accessible space provides short-term accommodation and community resources in the greater downtown area. It operates as a collective involving the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Community Helpers Unite, Saabe Peacewalkers and Downtown Community Safety Partnership, with the additional support of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

N’Dinawemak has been operational for 10 months, and in that time has shown it is a much-needed resource in the community. Having Indigenous-led supports and resources is integral to providing culturally appropriate services to our relatives, in both emergencies and over their long-term journeys to wellness and independence.

It has become evident, however, that operating N’Dinawemak as an emergency response to homelessness was not sustainable, and so the focus has shifted toward developing transitional housing with appropriate in-house supports.

Currently, N’Dinawemak sees 120 to 130 beds filled nightly, and 230 to 330 individuals checking in daily. While our relatives are staying, a calendar of resources is available to them, including mental-health support, housing navigation and basic medical attention, as well as staff-run activities such as art therapy, karaoke, AA meetings, medicine picking and sacred fires.

The staff provide care with empathy, compassion and dignity for whoever comes through the door and needs support.

This model emphasizes a holistic approach to supporting unsheltered relatives. A significant side benefit is significant cost savings to various service providers within the city. For example, as a result of the Saabe Peacewalkers training and crisis-management skills, more than 1,500 critical incidents were de-escalated, avoiding a response from emergency services which would have cost the city an estimated $700,000.

Having this resource is not only appropriate for our relatives accessing the supports, but also reduces the demand for public services.

Co-ordinated investment in Indigenous-led housing is essential if we truly want to end homelessness in our city and make downtown a desired destination once again. Indigenous-led housing projects will address the increasing need for affordable housing supply and reduce the over-representation of Indigenous people among those experiencing homelessness.

While recent investments in new supportive and transitional housing are promising, there continues to be an urgent need for more targeted, co-ordinated investment and support across all levels of government for evidence-based, Indigenous-led housing solutions.

Plans for the conversion of the downtown Hudson’s Bay building by the Southern Chiefs’ Organization offer a promising path forward. Indigenous-led initiatives specific to those experiencing and at risk of homelessness, such as the Manitoba Métis Federation’s homelessness hub (in development), the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre’s Astum Api Niikinaahk and Shawenim Abinoojii’s Nenookasiins transitional housing developments, must also be supported, adapted, and scaled.

These projects are concrete examples of recent successes achieved toward advancing the human right to housing and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, but we know there is much more work to do.

Jason Whitford is CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

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