The biggest barriers facing Winnipeg’s homeless population

WINNIPEG — A new report from the City of Winnipeg’s public service identifies housing as one of the biggest gaps in support for those experiencing homelessness.

The report notes there is a “critical need” for safe and affordable housing in Winnipeg, along with culturally-appropriate, low-barrier, and transitional or permanent supportive housing.

“Until this gap is addressed, the current issues related to unsheltered homelessness and encampments will persist and potentially worsen,” it said.

The public service also identified access to regular and reliable income as another barrier to the city’s most vulnerable. 

The report says that in Manitoba, for those who may or may not have a job, Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) provides financial support, but EIA is not always a viable option for the homeless population and it can be “stigmatizing” to access it. 

The report explains the reason it can be stigmatizing is there are often long waits to access EIA, and recipients have to maintain regular appointments and be available by phone, which is not an option for many people experiencing homelessness.

The public service notes there are programs such as Citizens Bridge, provided through the North End Renewal Corporation, and Access to Benefits, offered through Supporting Employment and Economic Development (SEED), which support people in accessing various benefits.

But, the report says, the availability of these kinds of programs is limited.

The report adds another barrier facing Winnipeg’s homeless population is access to emergency shelters.

In the city, there are just over 500 emergency shelter beds, which the report says, “are a crucial component of the support network for individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness.”

It notes the reasons there are barriers are because these shelters are sometimes at capacity; have restrictions on pets, belongings or alcohol; can separate couples; or require detailed intake criteria or processes.

There are also people who may not feel safe in shelters due to overcrowding, noise, past experiences of violence, perceived health and safety risks, concerns regarding accessibility, and stigma or shame.

The report notes there are currently no Indigenous shelters, women’s-only shelters or 2SLGBTQ+-specific shelters in Winnipeg, which it says is a significant gap for these communities.

“Although shelters play an important role in providing access to the immediate need for housing, barriers continue to exist for some individuals and groups when accessing this space,” the report says. 

“This is particularly true for Indigenous people.”

The public service also identifies clear roles and expectations for governments, residents and agencies, as well as the coordination of outreach services as barriers facing those experiencing homelessness. 

The report said the governments’ and community agencies’ roles and responsibilities have not been clearly defined, which has limited the creation of a coordinated approach to homelessness.

It noted that outreach services are also facing limitations with operational funding, small staff teams, and the duplication of services.

Going forward, the public service says work is required from all levels of government to address homelessness in Winnipeg.

It recommends, governments should come up with ways to support the creation of affordable housing; open 24/7 safe spaces; and work with the Unsheltered Winnipeggers Strategy Group.

The reports adds that “the Winnipeg Public Service should work to develop a greater partnership with the Provincial Government to identify and define the roles and expectations of each level of government in supporting individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness. 

“Working collaboratively, the City, the Province, and community based organizations can lead and support real change in addressing unsheltered homelessness and the issues related to encampments in Winnipeg.”

The city’s protection, community services and parks committee will discuss this report at a meeting on Friday, Sept. 18.