Winnipeg residents voice concerns over safety due to homeless encampments

A homeless encampment in the University Heights neighbourhood is set to be dismantled, after residents in the area voiced concerns over safety and security in their community.

Lorne Klassen says a homeless encampment in a city park across the street from his home on D’Arcy Drive has been popping up every summer for the past four years.

Klassen says he and many of his neighbours have witnessed or experienced incidents of violence, vandalism, break-ins, and theft, including one neighbour who he says recently had rocks thrown through their window.

“People coming into our yards, people sleeping our backyards, breaking into areas so they can go swimming in peoples pools… it has been pretty bad,” Klassen told Global News.

He also says the issues only appear to be getting worse and the encampments only appear to be getting larger.

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“Last year was probably the worst year because we had a bicycle chop shop and there was a lot of stolen bikes and stolen everything happening in the neighbourhood,” Klassen said, adding that the city did take action and the encampment was cleared out, but it returned again this summer.

“This year, nobody is even venturing in there, because it seems to be more of a drug-related problem than a bicycle or stolen bicycle thing, and nobody really has the courage to walk into the bush there and see what’s going on,” Klassen said.

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He says it’s made many residents avoid walking through the city park.

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“(My) grandchildren aren’t allowed to go into the bush, see what the trails are, take a look at the riverbank. It’s a scary place to go right now,” he said.

“Definitely makes us feel unsafe, I’m not a little guy, I don’t think I’ll walk in there either.”

While speaking to 680 CJOB late Wednesday afternoon, Street Links founder Marion Willis said their outreach team revisited the camp on Wednesday, and plan to have the residents of the encampment housed. Something they previously tried to do last month.

“Our team did attend to that encampment and came up with a housing plan and a plan to go back and dismantle the encampment and move everybody out. Every one of them has agreed to a housing plan and we do have housing for all of them,” Willis said.

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“And over the next few days that encampment will be dismantled and everyone will be housed and hopefully that brings the end to what’s been a bit of a challenging situation.”

Some residents have also voiced their concerns to law enforcement and Waverley West Ward Councillor Janice Lukes.

Lukes says she attended a community meeting with residents to hear their concerns.

“It’s not an ideal situation at all,” Lukes said.

Lukes says she also has concerns about outreach organizations not working in unison on how they address homeless encampments, which recently prevented the encampment in question from being cleaned up, she says. Something she feels could be addressed through a housing-first model in Houston, Texas, that the city is currently reviewing.

“They are both are operating, in my opinion, under different philosophies, under different approaches,” Lukes said.

“The mayor is investigating the Houston-model approach – Where all service providers, agencies are focused on one approach. If they’re not, they’re not funded.”

“We have to have one approach. We can’t have varying approaches.”

Lukes says she has also asked the Winnipeg Police Service to go into the encampment and investigate if any of the people living there have outstanding warrants.

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While speaking on 680 CJOB Wednesday morning, Premier Wab Kinew said addressing homelessness is something the province and the city are working on together.

“We want to give people dignity. Lets get people into housing, lets give them the mental health and addictions needs and all the other supports that they need to be successful in those housing units,” Kinew said.

“But one thing we don’t want to do is put people into a hotel or apartment and then have them end up on the street right away.”

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