Community, wraparound supports key in transitioning unsheltered people into housing: organizations – Winnipeg
Robert recovered from frostbite on both feet over the weekend in a warm-up room on St Boniface Street Links after spending hours outside in freezing temperatures while high on meth on Friday.
“If the organization didn’t exist, I would be, well, I might be dead.”
Global News is not providing Robert’s full name to protect his identity. He has struggled with addiction, bipolar disorder and homelessness for years.
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Robert says he doesn’t feel safe in shelters or on the streets. He’s looking for a place to call his own, but knows he can’t be alone.
“One of the reasons I and others think I’ve slipped back into addiction and homelessness is, ironically, because we’re looking for connections with our community,” he said.
His desire for community is widespread, and Breda Vosters and Talia Potash of Resource Assistance for Youth (RAY) say many find him in camps.
“However, the key point for us is, will they remain housed?” Vosters, RAY’s scholarship and information director, told Global News on Thursday.
Community should be considered when transitioning people into homes, Vosters said.
“Getting people out of camps and putting them in one-bedroom apartments in a part of town they’re unfamiliar with doesn’t work,” said Potash, who serves as RAY’s housing director.
Winnipeg already has great examples that are working, including the Bell Hotel on Main St., Potash said. It offers 42 independent suites with 24-hour cultural and health care.
“Crises happen, and they don’t necessarily happen between nine and five,” she said.
Kate Sjoberg of the Main Street Project oversees the building, which follows a Housing First approach. Residents do not have to be sober or have a job.
CentreVenture, the City of Winnipeg’s independent development company, purchased the property in 2007. In partnership with the Main Street Project and other local, provincial and federal departments and initiatives, the Bell Hotel reopened in 2011 as supportive housing.
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The community atmosphere encourages them to reach out for support when needed, Sjoberg said.
“When I talk to people who are going through such difficult times, I really realize that maybe there’s been a family crisis or a change in their own health where they’re like, ‘No, like I have to stay here . and that’s why I’m willing to work with you to figure out what I need to do to be successful,” she said.
Yet since its inception more than a decade ago, few other venues have opened like The Bell.
“We need five or ten Bell Hotels in this city,” Potash said.
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The number of unprotected Winnipeggers will only increase as the supply of affordable and public housing shrinks, Sjoberg said.
“As much as the private sector can move forward, that’s really important, but the volume that we need will come from big dollar investments, and that has to come from the public sector,” she said.
Potash and Sjoberg are asking all levels of government for more funds to fund projects and subsidize housing.
Manitoba’s homelessness strategy will be released in the coming months, and providing assisted living housing will be part of that plan, a spokeswoman for Secretary of Mental Health and Community Wellbeing Janice Morley-Lecomte said in a statement emailed on Tuesday.
“Housing First is and will remain part of the housing continuum,” they said.
The province has continued support for the Bell Hotel and recently provided St. Boniface Street Links with $215,000 for its outreach team, the spokesman said.
“The province has also provided funding for Home First Winnipeg, which will soon open another project in Winnipeg that uses a Housing First model.
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Ottawa acknowledges that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Canadians to afford housing, a spokesman for the Secretary of State for Housing and Diversity and Inclusion told Global News on Tuesday.
The federal government has already provided $228 million for affordable housing in Winnipeg, equivalent to more than 6,200 units, including through its Rapid Housing Initiative and Reaching Home Program, they said.
“We recently launched our third round of the $1.5 billion Rapid Housing Initiative, including millions … dedicated to Winnipeg,” they added. “Projects funded through this program are built rapidly within 12 to 18 months after funding is made available.”
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The direct rent subsidy through Canada Housing Benefit will also help people in this city, they added.
“Nearly 2 million renters across the country, including 64,000 Manitoba households struggling with housing costs, can now apply for a direct one-time $500 federal housing benefit boost in Canada,” they continued. “We are also committed to tackling excessive profits from investment property and introducing measures to end ‘renovations’.”
Meanwhile, Robert said he hopes a more connected system that accommodates a person’s need for community and independence may be on the horizon.
“We’re paying a price together, you know, whether it’s money spent on emergency rooms and policing or the loss of life,” he said. “There has to be a better way.”
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