Housing, safety, youth programs top election priorities for Winnipeg anti-poverty advocates

Anti-poverty advocate Mary Burton has spent years helping families involved in child and family services. 

“We all work with youth and we all try to make sure our youth are healthy and safe and happy, and in order to do that we need to be able to say that we can do it. If we don’t have the funding, we can’t do it,” said Burton, executive director of Fearless R2W, a Winnipeg grassroots non-profit that works to support families involved in the child and family services system.

A poll this past summer indicated that poverty and homelessness, along with crime and safety, were the top issues for voters in this election. 

Those who work with some of the most vulnerable people in Winnipeg say they want the candidates running to become the city’s next mayor to take note.

The families in the Manitoba Housing complex where Burton lives face a lack of activities for youth, she said.

“They need to be able to have a sustainable park that they can play in,” along with facilities like pools, said Burton.

Above all, however, she says families in Winnipeg need adequate housing.

“The city needs to work with the other levels of government to create more housing.… More four- and five-bedroom units for families, larger families that need to be reunified.”

For Immigration Partnership of Winnipeg executive director Reuben Garang, the issues of safety and housing are inextricably linked.

“Who are the most vulnerable people? It’s the people on the street who are homeless and it’s young people that are struggling with poverty,” he said.

“If we take safety as a priority, then all of us, as human beings, we all grow together.”

A man wearing a collared shirt is standing in front of a bookshelf.
Reuben Garang is executive director of Immigration Partnership of Winnipeg, which is hosting a forum for mayoral candidates on Oct. 15 at the South Sudanese Community Centre. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Immigration Partnership of Winnipeg is organizing a forum for mayoral candidates on Oct. 15 at the South Sudanese Community Centre, and the non-profit has also launched an education campaign called “Got Citizenship? Go Vote.”

The goal of the campaign is to increase election participation among newcomers — by encouraging them to run for office, as well as vote.

“Some of them are overwhelmed, they have other needs, other priorities, and we all know that here in Winnipeg, turnout for voting is always very low, so we could imagine that it could also be very low within the newcomer community.”

Garang also wants the city to fully implement the Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy — a policy plan that outlines how Winnipeg can make the city a better place to live for newcomers and better meet their needs. Council adopted the policy framework in 2020

Make Poverty History, a coalition of anti-poverty organizations in Manitoba, released a statement on Tuesday identifying three key issues its members want candidates to address.

That includes calling on the city to build 150 units of rent-geared-to-income housing every year for 10 years. The coalition also wants the city to increase the discount for low-income bus passes from 50 to 80 per cent, and expand 24-hour safe spaces.

Spokesperson Desiree McIvor says many people have to cut back on essentials like food in order to pay for housing.

“Everybody should be able to at least afford their basic needs and not have to dip into that just for housing,” she said.

“If we’re going to move forward in a positive way, we need to lay the foundation down first and get the rent-geared-to-income housing.”

There are 11 candidates running to replace Brian Bowman, who is not seeking a third term, as mayor: Idris Adelakun, Rana Bokhari, Chris Clacio, Scott Gillingham, Kevin Klein, Shaun Loney, Jenny Motkaluk, Glen Murray, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Rick Shone and Don Woodstock.

Advance voting opened on Monday and closes Oct. 21.

Election day is Oct. 26.