In 2011, with funding from the federal, provincial and municipal governments along with CentreVenture, Winnipeg’s downtown development agency, the Bell Hotel received a $5.5 million facelift. One of Main Street’s last remaining heritage buildings, the hotel now supplies 40 formerly homeless people with a roof over their heads in safe permanent housing.
The “Housing First” philosophy that governs Bell Hotel operations helps vulnerable populations move directly from the streets or homeless shelters into their own spaces. In this decade, North America’s business community is starting to realize that it can play a role, a strategic one, in addressing the issues surrounding poverty in our society – such as homelessness, deprivation, drift and too often even drug addiction.
In the fall of 2011, 40 CEOs from a range of Winnipeg businesses had their own exposure to the plight of the poor and homeless in an event organized by downtown BIZ. The group spent one cold night sleeping outdoors at the corner of Portage and Main to raise funds and public awareness about the ravages wreaked by poverty and about the importance of achieving change. They afterward participated in a roundtable discussion with Tim Richter and the Calgary Homeless Foundation.
Richter, president and CEO of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, has spearheaded with support from his city the implementation of Calgary’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Since its inception in January 2008, over 3,000 men, women and children have moved into their own homes – given to them free of charge along with essential quality-of-life supports. In its turn, Richter’s Calgary Homeless Foundation has developed over 3,500 units of affordable housing and led in the creation of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness. This latter initiative aims at creating a national movement to end homelessness in Canada through the development of 10 Year Plans across the country.
The Winnipeg event helped raise over $100,000, which was used to fund homeless employment initiatives run through such groups as the Siloam Mission, Red Road Lodge and Graffiti Art Programming Inc.
The BIZ saw with this sleep out the beginnings of an awakening by this city’s business community, in wanting to do more for the city’s homeless population.
“It made you think, made you appreciate what you have and made you excited about what’s possible,” said RBC regional president Rob Johnston. “We can do more, we need to do more. And I think this is a great beginning.”
A Winnipeg sleep out for 2012 is now in the planning stage.
Stefano Grande is director of Winnipeg’s DowntownBiz.