Addressing homelessness in Manitoba is critical


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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/12/2020 (910 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Homelessness exists everywhere in our province. In River Heights, we have seen camps of homeless people near the walking bridge in west River Heights and near the former rehabilitation centre in east River Heights.

This spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic was in its early stages I called for special attention for people who are homeless during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, with a recent rise in COVID-19 infections, the resulting lockdown and imminent cold winter, this concern is at the forefront.

There has, in the last year, been a noticeable increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, as made evident by the three major shelters being at or near capacity. We’ve also seen an increased number of camps of people who are homeless in various parts of Winnipeg. Transit drivers have observed an increased number of people spending the night in city bus shelters.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A person walks past a tent at a homeless camp on Higgins in Winnipeg in September 2020.

Other jurisdictions have found effective solutions to address homelessness. Medicine Hat is known for its ability to find a rental unit quickly for every person who becomes homeless. The U.K. and New York City are among a number of jurisdictions which have funded the cost of hotel rooms for those who are homeless in an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic.

There are steps we can take right now here in Winnipeg to help. We could, as others have, fund the cost of hotel rooms for those who are homeless while providing support for those with addictions or mental illnesses. This helps people stay safe and helps struggling hotel owners at the same time.

Another example includes decreasing the wait times and other delays for people accessing income assistance so that they can have the means to rent an apartment.

Of particular importance is opening up additional warming shelters. The pandemic has closed libraries and imposed restrictions on cafes and restaurants where people would normally seek respite or simply use a washroom to wash their hands. Warming shelters are vital. There is one warming centre at the Main Street Project but it is not nearly enough.

There are also many provincial or municipal buildings which could be opened up to people struggling in the cold. Large buildings which are still being heated but which are currently under-used, such as Portage Place, the RBC Convention Centre, The Bay, local community centres and/or churches are all possibilities. But it will need leadership and funding from government to enable this to happen quickly.

I recently engaged with caring Kelvin High School students during a virtual town hall and listened to their valuable ideas about how to help people get out of the cold. Leaders in the homeless community have shared the additional challenges they’ve faced with COVID-19 with respect to lack of access to thrift stores, masks and online shopping.

I welcome all compassionate ideas from the community in the hope of helping as many people as we can to stay warm this winter. You can email me at


Jon Gerrard

Jon Gerrard
River Heights constituency report

Jon Gerrard is Liberal MLA for River Heights.

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