Funding boost will help provide support but won’t mean more beds: Manitoba shelter directors

A major increase in funding for organizations that run homeless shelters in Manitoba will improve services for people who use them, but it won’t create more capacity, according to some of the agencies getting the money.

Last month, the province announced annual funding rates for shelters, transitional housing services and homeless outreach mentors will be hiked to $15.1 million from $6.1 million.

While the new money is being applauded by those organizations, it doesn’t mean more spaces will be created. 

The Salvation Army, which operates the largest shelter in the province and gets the biggest chunk of provincial cash, will see its funding go from roughly $2.8 million per year to almost $6.8 million.

“We’ve all struggled in this sector for a very long time just trying to make ends meet,” said Mark Stewart, executive director at Salvation Army Centre of Hope in Winnipeg, which houses about 340 people a day between its emergency shelter and transitional housing units.

“That gap is closing a little bit more, so we can focus on the work and not trying to raise money,” he said.

A 2019 photo shows beds at Siloam Mission. More funding for homeless-serving organizations won’t mean more spaces for people, but it will mean donor dollars can go toward expanding programs and services instead simply keeping the lights on, shelter directors say. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

There hasn’t been an increase of government funding in well over a decade, Stewart says, despite increased demand and rising costs, forcing shelters to rely heavily on donations to keep the doors open.

SonRise Village, a Salvation Army-run shelter for families with children, was on the chopping block before the new funding was announced, said Stewart.

“This is absolutely keeping the doors open,” he said.

Stewart said the shelter has run on bare-bones staffing for years, and being able to train and retain qualified workers will mean a safer and more supportive environment.

Currently, Stewart says there is roughly one case worker for every 180 people, when there should be three workers. The entire facility has just one and half maintenance positions, which sometimes leads to delays in repairs and rooms that need to be closed until they can be fixed up.

“When we get donation money we fix rooms, we paint walls, we try to give as much dignity … as possible,” said Stewart.

Old funding model flawed: Main Street Project

Main Street Project also said the additional $1.4 million it will receive annually will not increase its shelter capacity, but will allow for maintaining, and hopefully increasing, the services it can provide.

“It’s crucial. It means that we’re not considering layoffs this year,” said executive director Jamil Mahmood.

“Potentially, if we didn’t make enough donations around holiday time … we would be shutting down daytime shelter services.”

Main Street Project executive director Jamil Mahmood says the additional $1.4 million in provincial funding will not increase the organization’s shelter capacity, but will allow for maintaining, and hopefully increasing, services. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Mahmood said the funding is correcting a “historical wrong” in the funding model for shelters, which forced them to start each year in a deficit and then rely heavily on private donations and fundraising to get by.

“It’s actually just funding shelters at the rate they should be funded at to run the operation they run.” 

Donated dollars can now go toward things that were previously seen as extras that simply weren’t in the budget, said Mahmood.

“That means better access to showers — we can buy more towels, we can buy more sheets for cots.”

Siloam Mission’s funding for emergency shelter space has also doubled, but that won’t mean more beds there either.

Previously, provincial funding only covered a portion of 105 emergency shelter beds at Siloam. The new money will cover a bigger chunk of that, a spokesperson says, freeing up donor money for other costs, like the 48 beds that are not covered by provincial funding at all. 

Siloam Mission says the money that will have the most impact is new funding for outreach mentors. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The new funding will also allow Siloam to hire more staff, and there is now dedicated funding for homeless outreach workers, said spokesperson Luke Thiessen.

“That funding is what will most directly impact actual growth and increase in programming for us,” he said. 

“It will mean adding more staff to assist with getting people from emergency shelter into housing.”

More housing, not beds, needed

Mahmood said adding more shelter beds isn’t a solution to homelessness.

“We don’t want to see an investment in more shelter spaces, we want to see an investment in more housing.” 

Main Street Project has 120 shelter beds, but only 36 transitional housing units.

“Those numbers don’t equal a lot of people getting houses out of shelter,” Mahmood said. He hopes the province will focus on housing supply as the next phase in addressing homelessness. 

Red Road Lodge, which provides 47 transitional housing units, says it too will not be able to immediately increase spaces despite its annual funding more than doubling.

“Unless we put bunk beds in, there’s no way we can double our capacity,” said Red Road’s chief executive officer and founder, Richard Walls.

“The new funding will allow us to provide support staff. I would say anything from a peer support worker, a cultural facilitator, to a community outreach worker.”

Red Road Lodge chief executive officer Richard Walls say the new funding for will allow for hiring new staff and providing crucial training for existing staff. (Submitted by Richard Walls)

Walls said the traditional funding model didn’t include funding for programs and services to get people out of the situations that led to them needing a shelter in the first place.

“Just putting more heads in beds isn’t the answer for us — it’s actually getting them out of those beds and back in the community,” he said.

With the new provincial funding, Walls hopes private donations can help Red Road Lodge eventually look at purchasing or renting additional units to expand its capacity.

But the organization needs to have staff in place to make that happen, he said.

Shelters in Brandon, Thompson, and The Pas are also getting additional funding.

Brandon’s Samaritan House Ministries said even though its annual funding is more than doubling, that will just cover the deficit the organization takes on each year to operate the emergency shelter.