Want police to show up? Build a warming hut, says frustrated Winnipeg homeless advocate

A local homeless advocate says Winnipeg police had a number of other options they could have taken before destroying a series of warming huts on Henry Avenue.

Michael Belhumeur, founder of the Urban Knights and Ladies Peace Patrol, said his volunteer group is asking for an apology and $5,000 in compensation from police, who tore down the huts last week.

“I’ve got a tip for the public,” said Belhumeur. “You want the police to show up quickly? Build a warming hut, put it in your front yard.

“Let’s see how fast they come.”

Belhumeur, a veteran who spent time on the streets himself, has been reaching out to Winnipeg’s homeless — specifically fellow veterans — for decades, and said the huts were intended to provide refuge from the city’s harsh winter for people living in one of two homeless camps in downtown Winnipeg.

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READ MORE: Donated warming huts for Winnipeg homeless torn down for violating by-laws

Police told 680 CJOB on Thursday that despite the group’s good intention, the huts, which were built by students at Stonewall Collegiate, violated a number of zoning bylaws.

A tarp tent in front of two donated warming huts.
A tarp tent in front of two donated warming huts. Urban Knights and Ladies Peace Patrol

Belhumeur, however, doesn’t buy that excuse, pointing to other blatant infractions at the camp, including a tarp tent located right beside the huts, which appears to have a chimney. The tent remained untouched after the huts were torn down.

“Go and take a look around the area,” he said.

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“You want to talk about bylaw infraction… open fires, garbage, piles of trash, poorly constructed tents, you name it.

“If there’s any bylaw infractions, ours was probably the least that day.”

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A spokesperson said Tuesday that police — who are not the city’s lead agency for dealing with homelessness — were unaware of the presence of stoves at the site, but will engage with their community partners as to whether it’s a safety issue.

READ MORE: Winnipeg homelessness strategy aims to speak out against stigma

Those partners, according to Belhumeur, are part of the problem. He said he sees the incident with the huts as part of an effort by End Homelessness Winnipeg — the city’s formal partnership between community groups, public services, the private sector, and government — to shut down competing groups like his.

“They have an agenda,” he said.

“There’s a lot of movers and shakers behind that organization. Why would the police get there so quickly when there’s other citizens of Winnipeg who have to wait hours and weeks and days for them to show up?”

Despite the setback, Belhumeur said the Urban Knights and Ladies Peace Patrol isn’t dissuaded, and will continue in their mission to help the homeless.

“They didn’t touch our big project. We had another [hut] exclusively built, well-insulated. It was designed and built by a colony,” he said. “It’s got a bed in it, it’s got electrical outlets, it’s got a sink, toilet… everything. You name it.

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“We’re going to unveil that in the future.”

Winnipeg’s homeless and vulnerable and the agencies that serve them are preparing for the changing seasons

Winnipeg’s homeless and vulnerable and the agencies that serve them are preparing for the changing seasons

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