Manitoba boosts funding for agencies working to address homelessness

In an effort to address homelessness in Manitoba, the provincial government is boosting funding to organizations that help those who are most vulnerable, as well as increasing subsidies to make rent more affordable.

The annual funding rates for shelters, transitional housing services and homeless outreach mentors is being hiked to $15.1 million from the current $6.1 million, Premier Heather Stefanson and Families Minister Rochelle Squires announced Monday at Siloam Mission, Winnipeg’s largest homeless shelter.

Aside from Winnipeg, agencies in Brandon, Thompson and The Pas will benefit, the province said.

“We are more than doubling the support provided to our shelters that in turn support our most vulnerable citizens, because it is the right thing to do,” said Squires. The annual funding has not increased since 2009, she said.

“These service providers offer shelter, warmth, community and connection to essential social services.”

There is no single panacea to the challenges people are facing when it comes to homelessness, but the latest announcements are a good step forward, Premier Heather Stefanson said. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

The extra $9 million — $3.3 million for shelters, $4.8 for transitional housing programs and $800,000 for homeless outreach mentors — will go a long way, but more work still needs to be done, Stefanson said.

“It’s important that we support our shelter system, but we understand people should not be living on the street. A bus shelter is not an acceptable place to live,” she said.

“I’m confident these initiatives will have a strong positive impact … [but] we know there is no one panacea to solve the challenges people are facing in our community.”

The government is also giving $1.7 million to support N’Dinawemak, an Indigenous-led 24-hour shelter, and increasing the subsidy level to make rent more affordable for those receiving Employment and Income Assistance.

Rent assist, which is provided as part of regular monthly benefits to EIA clients renting in the private market, is currently indexed to 75 per cent of the median market rent.

The rate will go up to 77 per cent in January, which the province says will result in maximum monthly benefits rising between $34 and $70, depending on the size of the household. That is expected to cost the government $21 million.

Siloam Mission is the largest shelter in Winnipeg, with up to 600 people using its meal services every day. (Radjaa Abdelsadok/Radio-Canada)

The province is also issuing a request for proposals to partner with a community organization, for up to $2 million, to support a post-bail job-training program.

The program will deliver employment and training programming with personalized wraparound supports for individuals on bail and who get EIA. Helping those involved in the criminal justice system move toward employment will decrease the likelihood of reoffence and support rehabilitation, Squires said.

Jamil Mahmood, executive director of Main Street Project, called it a “historic investment in our work and shelters.”

“It’s really hard to put into words the impact this is going to have on our front-line services. We know that shelters are not the solution to homelessness, but they are a step to keep people off the streets and safe.”

Shelters are the last way for many people to access certain resources and services, while they are also the first step for people coming off the streets and transitioning into different housing programs, he said.

“This investment today will mean that we’ll be able to provide safer spaces, better quality of service, better pathways into housing,” Mahmood said.

“This is Main Street Project’s 50th anniversary this year. I hope that we’re not needed 50 years from now.”

Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, CEO of Siloam Mission, said that ultimately, the solution to homelessness is housing.

“But in the gap of that, shelter and having the adequate funds to support folks is going to make a significant change across our province.”

No new beds

Mahmood said the money will not increase the number of beds. It will instead allow the shelter to operate without worrying about fundraising and put more front-line staff to work shifting people into housing as quickly as possible.

Blaikie Whitecloud echoed that.

“By having the ability to … support people to move out of shelter, it will mean the beds become available faster,” and more people can be helped, she said.

The faster you can move people into housing, the less likely they are to have a recurrence of homelessness or to stay entrenched in homelessness, she said.

The province will release information this week about other initiatives aimed at addictions, gang-related violence, crime and overall making our streets safer for everyone, Stefanson said.