Brandon pop-up park pilot project aims to support people who are unhoused

A new outdoor pop-up park pilot project in the heart of Manitoba’s second biggest city will give people who are vulnerable a place of rest and reprieve.

The pop-up park in downtown Brandon will include porta-potties, a sheltered area and seating, said Shannon Saltarelli, the City of Brandon’s community housing and wellness co-ordinator. The space is intended for daytime use only.

Consultations with local agencies, those with lived experience in downtown Brandon and others spurred the creation of the downtown pocket park. Shovels for the project hit the dirt in early September.

“It’s a place where people can sit and congregate or visit with their community,” Saltarelli said.

The hope is the park will help address the concerns of people congregating downtown in front of businesses, the transit depot, residential areas and other places.

A location in the 800 block of Pacific Avenue was selected for the new project, Saltarelli said, because it is city-owned land and near where the majority of Brandon’s vulnerable population are typically located.

A key aspect of the project has been providing access to bathrooms.

The request for additional 24/7 washrooms in the downtown area is something that has been “heard loud and clear” from the downtown community, Saltarelli said. The nearest washrooms to the pop-up park are in Princess Park, several blocks north of the new space. However, these bathrooms are not open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If positive feedback is received about the pilot project, the city will look at further enhacing the area and making it more permanent in the future.

“Brandon has seen quite an increase in the amount of people coming into the community that are experiencing homelessness,” Saltarelli said. “There’s so many basic human needs that are not readily accessible for somebody who doesn’t have a place to go home during the day.”

CBC News spoke with several vulnerable people living in downtown Brandon. Some were in support of the new park, as it offered a space to sit as well as bathrooms that are more easily accessible. Others raised concerns that the space could become unsafe if it is vandalized or filled with drug paraphernalia, including sharps.

Harold Reid has been living in a condo building in downtown Brandon for four years.

A man smiles standing in a city street.
Harold Reid, who has been living in a condo building in downtown Brandon for four years, says he hopes the pop-up park project inspires further initiatives, including showers and places for people to go when it is cold. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

He thinks the new pop-up park will benefit the community, but he adds more support and resources are needed for those living in precarious situations.

“They still need some place to sleep at night — like, I can’t imagine sleeping on the ground on the pavement, it’s getting colder,” Reid said.

“It’s gotta be tough. I really think the city, the government, the Samaritan House Ministries [who run the Safe & Warm Shelter] and things like that need to do a little more … to try to improve the situation for these people.”

Downtown Brandon is a popular place for people who are unhoused to hang out, Reid said, and at times the front and back of his condo building can be surrounded by people.

“There is a community down here…. It’s just, you know, they need more assistance,” he said.

He hopes to see the pop-up park pilot project inspire further initiatives, including showers and places to go when it is cold.

“It would be great for them to have that kind of home,” Reid said. “It should start somewhere and hopefully get something that’ll work for them.”

Solange Machado, Manitoba Harm Reduction Brandon network co-ordinator, said the location of the new temporary park is a spot where people are already comfortable.

“It creates like respect and autonomy, and it’s going to be received well, I think, by our people who live and work downtown,” Machado said. “That’s really important because, again, it just gives people a space where they can use the washroom … without fear of being hassled out.”

In many cases, vulnerable people often don’t feel welcome in certain public spaces, she said. It will be nice to have a space where anybody can use the washroom without having to purchase something or risk being told to leave the area.

A woman wearing a Manitoba Harm Reduction Network T-shirt stands in a park on a sunny day.
Solange Machado of Manitoba Harm Reduction, seen here in a file photo from August, says the location of the new temporary park is a spot where people are already comfortable. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Machado said she has heard repeated calls from the downtown community for more benches and tables where people can sit and have spaces to sit down or lay down if they are tired.

“I’m just really looking forward to see how it plays,” she said. “I’ve seen other communities do it and have had a lot of success, so hoping it’s the same for here in Brandon.”