‘The system is broken’

Winnipeg Street Census calls for more support for Indigenous people

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This article was published 15/10/2018 (1445 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

 

A recent homeless census conducted in Winnipeg calls for more resources for youth in care and Indigenous people, especially those involved with Child and Family Services.

A recent homeless census conducted in Winnipeg calls for more resources for youth in care and Indigenous people, especially those involved with Child and Family Services.

 

Photo by Ligia Braidotti Jolene Wilson, chairwoman of the First Voice committee and community connector at West Central Women’s Resource Centre (left) and Kirsten Bernas, director of housing, West Central Women’s Resource Centre (right) are pictured above at the Winnipeg Street Census launch on Oct. 10 at Circle of Life Thunderbird House.

“Our people are not broken. The system is broken,” Jolene Wilson, chairwoman of the First Voice committee and community connector at West Central Women’s Resource Centre, said.

The Winnipeg Street Census, launched on Oct. 10 at the Circle of Life Thunderbird House (715 Main St.), was conducted in a 24-hour period between April 17 and 18. 

The final census points out approximately 1,519 people experienced homelessness in Winnipeg during that period, 65.9 per cent were Indigenous and 73.8 were Indigenous youth.

“When you think of 1,519 people in 24 hours that are homeless you can imagine how grand this problem really is,” Wilson added.

The top three events that can lead to homelessness, according to the census, are family breakdowns, abuse or conflict. Addiction and substance use, eviction and income issues (job loss, or getting cut from Employment and Income Assistance or Employment Insurance benefits) are also events that can lead to homelessness. More than 50 per cent of people experiencing homelessness during that period identified they had been in the care of CFS at one point in their lives, with 62.4 per cent of them experiencing homelessness within a year of leaving care.

Among those who were homeless, 455 were youth and children under the age of 29, of which 93 were children under the age of 18 in the care of a parent or guardian, and 31 were children staying on their own.  The census also shows that 85.4 per cent of youth experiencing homelessness have high symptoms of mental health distress.

Wilson said apprehension can lead to homelessness and commented that EIA and CFS should be working together in assisting families, rather than against each other.

“The gap is, you are depending on the money to pay your rent but then CFS comes and apprehends your children, for whatever reasons, there are many reasons why this happens, you’re working hard to get your children back, but how are you going to get them back if you don’t have a home?” Wilson continued.

“And EAI says ‘Well, you don’t have your kids, we’re not going to pay you until they come back.’ As if CFS is going to give your kids back when you don’t have a home to take them. So it’s a huge gap.”

The report states that “a spectrum of transitional supports and strategies are needed for youth exiting Child and Family Services along with anyone exiting Corrections or Health Services by building on existing community-based support services.”

“The CFS system must move away from one that emphasises apprehensions into state care and towards one that builds on community supports, both formal (i.e., community-based organizations) and informal (i.e., within extended family and friends) to strengthen families and avoid the family breakdown that follows state apprehensions.”

Participants were asked to answer an open-ended question on what would help them find permanent, stable housing. The most common answers were affordable housing, advocacy or direct support, employment and higher or more stable income.

“Many respondents found this a difficult question to answer. Some were on their way to finding housing but were just waiting or in a transition period. Others couldn’t think of a specific thing that could help, with responses such as ‘I just gotta figure things out’ or ‘a miracle,’” the report states.

Kirsten Bernas, director of housing at West Central Women’s Resource Centre, said she wonders if the majority of the population understands the extent of homelessness. 

“We all see homelessness on our streets. We drive down Main Street, or we’re walking through our downtown, and we see that homelessness is part of our community… So the number that was presented today, around 1,500 people experiencing homelessness every night, I wonder if that is news to the people in our city.”

The report calls for more settlement services for Indigenous people who come from throughout the country, mainly from Indigenous reserves in Manitoba, similar to the ones put in place for newcomers. The services should be able to “ensure that those who have had to move from their home communities to the city for education, employment, and even natural disasters are aware of and able to access necessary supports and services. It should be understood that this would need to be an Indigenous-led initiative,” it states.

To see the full report, go to streetcensuswpg.ca

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