As Winnipeg homeless camps spread, Main Street Project provides outreach

The number of homeless camps dotting Winnipeg’s riverbanks have increased over the past handful of years and exploded this summer.That’s according to Gordon Cartwright, who’s been operating Splash Dash River Tours and Water Bus Service for 27 years.“There’s always been some camps, every year I’ve ever operated, but the last couple years they’ve grown quite a bit,” Cartwright says while piloting his boat down the Assiniboine River, pointing out long-time and new encampments.Story continues below

“In the past year, they’ve increased by at least 10 times as many as the year before.”Earlier this year, a city request-for-proposal aimed at finding contractors to tear down homeless camps caused backlash and protests. The proposal was called dehumanizing.READ MORE: City looking for help cleaning up needles, dismantling homeless campsSoon, Main Street Project stepped in to take responsibility — but instead of tearing homeless camps down, making the people move on, as was done in the past — the non-profit social service agency provides outreach, health services, and harm reduction to the people living in the camps.That includes offering housing options, but no one is forced to move.Some homeless camps have grown substantially, with camps under the Osborne and Maryland Bridges expanding throughout the summer.The RFP and the backlash caused an important discussion, according to Main Street Project’s executive director Rick Lees.“Now, 311 calls that were going to police that were dealing with social issues are referred through Main Street Project and… to our partners if we feel there’s a partner that’s more appropriate,” says Lees.WATCH (May 22, 2019): There’s not enough housing’: Why people live on the streets in Winnipeg