Homelessness, crime top list of election issues for Winnipeggers, Probe poll suggests

A majority of Winnipeggers place homelessness and poverty among the top issues in this year’s civic election, newly released poll results suggest.

At 64 per cent, respondents ranked reducing poverty and homelessness with reducing crime and increasing public safety among the top three issues for the next mayor and council. Road repair came in at 53 per cent.

“I’m not surprised, and I think it was to be expected that these are critically important issues within our city and throughout our province,” said Jason Whitford, CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

The poll of 622 adults in Winnipeg was conducted by Probe Research, and was included in a larger survey on the civic election in July, but the question on election issues was not released until last week.Homeless people are more vulnerable to crime, Whitford says.

“They don’t have a safe place to go, they often have medical issues, mobility issues, mental health issues or substance abuse issues, and … there’s added vulnerability to those factors when they don’t have … access to a safe place,” he said.

People living in the core area (77 per cent) and women (69 per cent) were more likely to rank homelessness and poverty among their top issues, while crime was a higher priority for Winnipeggers over the age of 55 (72 per cent) and residents in the northwest part of the city (73 per cent).

The poll highlights the need for better access to addictions recovery services, says Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links.

“The 28-day treatment programs that exist are absolutely no match for drug addiction,” she said.

Crossing jurisdictions

Many of the issues contributing to homelessness and poverty — housing, health care, addictions, child welfare — fall under provincial or federal responsibility. Nevertheless, advocates for people experiencing homelessness say the City of Winnipeg has tools to help.

They include redirecting some funding going to Winnipeg police — currently $320 million, more than one-quarter of the city’s total budget — toward community services that address the underlying causes of poverty and homelessness, says Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council.

“For the most part, people would prefer to live lives that are meaningful, that are sustainable, that they are empowered to live and be part of this community,” Kehler said. “So that’s what we mean by crime prevention through social development.”

Each of the advocates CBC News spoke with supports the “housing first” model, which seeks to move people into housing without requiring them to go through detox or recovery programs first.

“We’ve invested increased funding into creating more housing first units and resources, and it’s proven effective,” Whitford said.

He would like to see more “deeply affordable” housing projects established on city-owned land, similar to the Village Product, which will see 22 tiny homes constructed near Thunderbird House on Main Street.

Although St. Boniface Street Links has housed people whom they do not expect to stop consuming alcohol or drugs, Willis says some people need to access addictions recovery programs before they can be ready for housing.

Other tools the city can use to address poverty and addictions include offering free transit, and lobbying the provincial government to allow a safe consumption site, Kehler says.

Willis does not oppose the idea of a safe consumption site being set up in Winnipeg, but she says more recovery supports need to be in place first.

Candidate promises

Willis appeared alongside mayoral candidate Kevin Klein at a campaign announcement when he promised to create a homeless advisory group comprising representatives of non-profits, city councillors and city staff. She also signed Klein’s nomination paper, although she says she is not endorsing anyone for mayor.

She also appeared at an event with candidate Glen Murray pledging more addictions and recovery services.

Candidate Scott Gillingham says he would  transform six city-owned vacant lots into modular housing units to help those experiencing homelessness.

Shaun Loney, who is also running for mayor, wants to create a program which would see emergency services identify people they interact with regularly, determine the cash value of the staff time used annually to respond to these people, and compensate designated non-profits for the value of the avoided dispatches.

Probe Research did its survey from July 14 to 25 using a representative sample of respondents compiled from the Winnipeg firm’s own panel and supplemented with respondents from a national panel.

As an online panel, no margin of error can be ascribed to the sample. Probe says  a random and representative non-convenience sample would have a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Election day is Oct. 26.