A year after Kíkinanaw Óma – A Strategy to Support Unsheltered Winnipeggers was released by End Homelessness Winnipeg and its project partners, organizers say community groups have made progress on a handful of key initiatives, but there is still plenty of action left to be taken.
End Homelessness Winnipeg, in collaboration with the City of Winnipeg, first responders, outreach workers, social agencies, and people with lived experience, released the strategy in June 2020.
Kíkinanaw Óma, meaning "This is our Home Here" in Cree, outlined six recommendations for supporting individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness or living in encampments.
The strategy calls for more housing, increased income supports, co-ordinated access between groups, enhanced outreach, additional 24-7 safe spaces, and to continue the interim strategy and a rights-based approach while implementing the other recommendations.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many pre-existing issues, such as shelter capacity, emergency resources were also made available in response to the pandemic, which allowed some services and programs to expand their reach. Organizations agree, however, that funding continues to be a barrier.
A key success in the last year, according to organizers, was launching Astum Api Niikinaahk (originally called "the Village") — a permanent housing community next to Circle of Life Thunderbird House. The project will see the creation of 22 tiny homes and a communal lodge intended for single adults experiencing or at risk of homelessness, with access to wraparound supports. Led by Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, Astum Api Niikinaahk is expected to get underway this fall.
"Our relatives will live and be supported in Niikinaahk as they move through their healing journey, from unsheltered living towards independence and interdependence," said project co-ordinator Melissa Stone.
New 24-7 safe spaces include Sscope and Velma’s House; however, the latter hasn’t reached the 24-hour mark yet due to funding shortages — the agency hopes to be open 24-7 in August. Spence Neighbourhood Association’s WE24 space expanded its hours but is not open around the clock, either.
Since Velma’s House opened March 15, the West Broadway agency — which serves women experiencing violence — has had 278 intakes, more than 1,800 in-person visits, and has served over 2,000 meals.
In nearly five months, Velma’s House has helped 10 women secure housing, but nine of them have returned to homelessness owing to challenges like addiction, mental health, and a lack of continuous supports, according to program co-ordinator Isabel Daniels.
"A real big issue for us is that continuum of care, and making sure that we, as organizations, are communicating and talking to each other in regards to what happens when our people are housed and making sure that those people stay in their houses. Like, there’s got to be an extreme reason why someone would choose to be unsheltered than to stay in the apartment that they’re living in," Daniels said.
The goal for Velma’s House is to create a mentorship program for women transitioning from being unsheltered to first- and second-stage housing to long-term, independent housing, Daniels added.
When it comes to enhancing outreach, Jacob Kaufman, a peer advocate outreach worker at Main Street Project, said agencies must listen to community members instead of assuming their needs.
"We just have to realize that not every person is the same and we have to figure out what works for people," Kaufman said. "We have to listen and talk less."
The Times community journalist
If The Buggles’ 1979 breakout single were about Sydney, it might be called Print Killed the Radio Star. Before she joined Canstar Community News, Sydney was an anchor and a reporter for a few local news radio stations in rural Manitoba. After realizing she enjoyed writing more than speaking, Sydney moved to Winnipeg just months after graduating from Carleton University in Ottawa with degrees in journalism and geography. Through clenched teeth and frostbitten fingers, she has come to appreciate Winnipeg — numbing winters and all. When she’s not in the newsroom, Sydney can be found playing card games, listening to music, and writing content for her friends who are too cheap to hire a PR team. Sydney has a strong heart for community news and believes every neighbourhood, town and city is better off because of it — although she may be biased. Sydney loves learning about communities and what makes them tick, which is why she’s grateful to be a reporter covering northwest Winnipeg neighbourhoods, where resilience and innovation is abundant. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org