Birchwood Terrace residents grateful but still stressed after Manitoba government extends supports

Residents of a Winnipeg apartment block who are scrambling to find new homes after living through an emergency eviction say they’re grateful the Manitoba government has stepped in to help with some of their costs but believe it could still do more.

“I don’t think it’s enough,” said Judith Stanley, who expects to spend at least the rest of June living in a hotel as she searches for a new place to live. “No one has anywhere for right now,” she said.  

Stanley spent a decade at Birchwood Terrace in St. James before the city ordered all of the roughly 250 tenants to immediately evacuate the block on May 9, after serious deterioration found in steel columns of the parkade put the entire building’s stability into question.

On Thursday, Kirkfield Park MLA Logan Oxenham rose in the legislature to announce the province would extend housing and meal support to residents. 

In a subsequent statement, a spokesperson told CBC the support would last for two weeks, starting Saturday, and needs assessments will be done going forward. The last assessment was conducted May 24. 

“We will support families through this difficult time and help them as they find permanent homes,” Oxenham told his fellow MLAs, according to the official Hansard.

A woman is pictured looking forward. A building under construction is behind her.
Judith Stanley says the government and aid agencies could be more empathetic overall about the situation Birchwood Terrace residents find themselves in. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

Stanley said she’d advocate for support lasting through June, as most apartments for rent don’t become available until the first of the month.

Vacancy rates are currently very low, said Stanley. The owner of two dogs, she said she’s looking at steep increases in rent at a new place as a result. 

She said she didn’t want to seem ungrateful for the government’s support, but thinks that it, and aid agencies like the Red Cross, could have more empathy overall for the stress residents are under. 

“It’s hard. It’s very hard,” Stanley said of trying to find a new place to live in a rush.

Kayla Dussome, a mother of two, said she and her family have been living in a hotel and are cramped for space. The province’s gesture is “amazing,” she said.

“At first I didn’t think the province was going to do anything, but that’s great that [Oxenham] has stepped up,” Dussome said. “It was scary waiting to the end of the week not knowing if we’re going to be getting any more money.”

She’s been able to find a four-bedroom house, but she and her mother, who was also a Birchwood Terrace resident, will need to move in together to be able to afford it. 

“I just want building management companies to take better care of their buildings — this is crazy,” she said.

CBC has asked property owner Ladco for comment.

Stanley and Dussome said the company has been providing daily updates to residents, but there’s no word on what is happening with the building repairs. 

“We have no idea how long it’s going to be,” Stanley said. “It could be two months, it could be six months. We have no idea.”