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All the Way Home: We call for major changes and improvements to help those experiencing homelessness in Manitoba

Today we released our Manitoba Liberal Caucus report designed to address the needs of those experiencing homelessness in Manitoba.   For me it has been a three months journey to understand the reasons for so much homelessness in Manitoba.  Nancy Chippendale, an activist concerned about the needs of those experiencing homelessness approached me early last fall to say that we needed to look into the situation in Manitoba.   Nancy said "This winter, with the COVID-19 pandemic there are going to be unique challenges.   Many of the places people experiencing homelessness may be closed or inaccessible due to COVID-19."  We started the planning in October and in November  and December we talked to  many, many  people who are trying  to help those who are homeless. As well we talked to individuals with lived experience of being homeless.  With Nancy's help, I have learned a lot, and the result is this report.  The full report - titled "All the way home:  Ending 40+ years of forced homelessness in Winnipeg" is available at this link. The  media release which summarizes the report is below.  The report recommends a major change in how we address homelessness in Manitoba. 

All the Way Home: Manitoba Liberals Launch Homeless Report Follow-Up

Treaty One – Winnipeg / The Manitoba Government needs to step up immediately and change the way it handles homelessness, not just for the next brutal week of freezing weather, but to permanently ensure that homeless people have a place to live, say Manitoba Liberals.

The report details the failures of successive NDP and PC governments to address poverty and housing in Winnipeg.

For decades, the Government of Manitoba have created a permanent crisis by investing in permanent shelters instead of making sure that Manitobans have a roof over their head 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Homeless people are huddling for warmth in bus shelters because under the PCs and NDP alike, there is nowhere else for them to go,” said Dougald Lamont, MLA St. Boniface and Leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party. “The NDP and PCs funded mats on floors. Chronic problems need permanent solutions. This plan ends homelessness in Winnipeg.”

The 10-point plan adds to recommendations made by the Manitoba Liberals in late December, when they called for Emergency Pandemic action to protect people who are homeless. More than 1500 people in Manitoba are experiencing homelessness. Our bus shelters, particularly but not exclusively downtown, have become “homes” for those who are homeless. 

“In the immediate term – we mean the next few days, we are calling for warming centres to be opened, free masks in bus shelters, and a central command centre that can coordinate mobile units to get people who are homeless someplace warm,” said Gerrard. “The next step – we need to rapid access to social assistance and especially getting permanent housing in apartments and hotels, to put people on a lifelong path of security.”

Liberals say it is important to shift support for homeless people away from police or transit, and towards health care and mobile support units from existing organizations.

The Federal Government has set up a major fund to assist with the purchases of hotels for rapid housing in Covid-19. Manitoba Liberals say if the province won’t act, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and the Manitoba Metis Federation should receive the money to purchase hotels and get the process started. 

A large number of studies have shown it is cheaper to house those who are homeless than to leave them living on the street. Daily costs for hospital can be $1,000 a day, Canadian Federal prison is $315/day, Provincial prison is $166/day and adequate housing is $40/day.  

The report makes ten recommendations, based on the simple premise that people who are homeless, deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, as all Manitobans do.

The report restates four recommendations from the December report, and adds six more:

1) Open several community centres and other city buildings as warming shelters.

2) Prompt access to EIA within 48 hours.

3) Prompt access to seamless addictions treatment.

4) Create and maintain a single web-based dashboard of resources for those who are homeless. 

5) Signage and maps provided in bus shelters listing places available to stay warm.

6) Provide free masks in bus shelters.

7) Organize a city-wide coordinated approach to supporting and contacting mobile help units. 

8) Use  a fast-track approach to put people in an apartment or a hotel room. 

9) Use Indigenous cultural approaches to welcome people in from the cold.

10) Help people all the way to a positive and sustainable life path.

“People living in poverty are often blamed or shamed for it, when the rest of us should recognize that we could be a few paychecks or a crisis away from being in the same place,” said Lamont. “Poverty and homelessness is not a choice: it's the rest of us choosing whether to shut  people out, or let them in.  We have the resources to ensure that everyone can stay warm and have a roof over their head, every  day of the year."  

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