A mission to end homelessness in Winnipeg

The task force plan focuses on shifting our thinking from managing homelessness to wiping it out – a shift, it says, that is proving successful in cities across North America.

Stefano Grande Downtown
Stefano Grande
Downtown

We can end homelessness. There is a way to move forward. The newly created 10-year plan to end homelessness in Winnipeg is the right approach and a long-awaited move that the downtown business community applauds.

Spearheaded by the United Way’s Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, this plan was created in consultation with cities from all across North America, with consideration of indigenous perspectives, insights from social agencies working on the front lines and the voice of the business community.

By setting direction in four key areas – prevention, creating a person-centred system of care, a “Housing First” strategy backed up by an adequate housing supply and careful measurement [data collection] for use in evaluating and improving programs – this plan will help reduce the number of individuals who are homeless, whether they are living in shelters or in transient housing.

Now and over the next decade, the real work must begin. Government and the private sector will need to roll up their sleeves and work together to implement the plan’s recommendations.

Announcement of The Plan to End Homelessness in Winnipeg could not have come at a better time. Five years ago, the federal government funded a Canada-wide research demonstration project called At Home/Chez Soi with the philosophy of Housing First – that a homeless individual needs a roof over their head before they can deal with other challenges.

In Winnipeg, this funding helped over 200 chronically homeless individuals suffering with mental health issues get off the street and into a stable, permanent home, and connected them with a network of service providers to support, nurture and provide accountability. While the program proved successful, the funding ran out. The plan created by WPRC confirms the need for Housing First.

Four years ago, the Downtown BIZ brought its voice to the table. After witnessing this issue firsthand, along with the strain put on the fire, police and medical services that are assisting people day by day, we issued a challenge to the corporate community. We asked CEOs and community leaders to step up as part of our CEO Sleepout, to help support the work of the non-profit sector, intensify the conversation around homelessness and challenge government to press forward with long-term solutions.

Through the inspiring words and example of Sleepout participant Tim Richter, president and CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, we showed what cities like Calgary are doing, and proved that progress can be made and that we should not be afraid to set a bold goal like ending homelessness.

So why has it taken so long to get here? The fact is that the community, be it the business community or the non-profit sector, often has the ability to move more quickly than policy can. That’s why this group, a coalition of community leaders working together through an arms-length foundation, is the right tool to quicken the pace of change and leverage private resources, which government can do.

Government administrations and agendas may change, but an arms-length foundation will survive and continue to push forward.

Support of this plan is a huge step for government. It’s a statement of faith in the community. An established organization like the United Way has credibility and capacity. The private and public sector chairs of the WPRC are champions who can mobilize and bring these two groups together. No one institution holds the answer to homelessness. We all need to own the problem and commit to solutions.

The downtown business community believes the future of our city and our downtown lies in tackling this issue. We can make a better city and a better downtown by simply helping people who are homeless in a progressive way: providing a home, helping them keep it and providing support in dealing with their challenges.

The table is set. It’s time for government and community to sit down and get going.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. You can read more about the Downtown Winnipeg Biz initiative here.

A task force to end homelessness

The Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council is a 30-member council of community organizations, all levels of government, the private sector and labour leaders who come together to address issues of poverty. The council was formed in 2007 through the leadership of United Way Winnipeg. In 2011 its members began to explore how the council might contribute to addressing the issue of homelessness. After some research, the council decided to bring together a multi-sector community task force with a mandate to develop a plan to end homelessness in our city.

The Community Task Force to End Homelessness is composed of 15 members from multiple sectors, including the three levels of government, community organizations and the private sector. Over 25 per cent of its members are of Indigenous descent.
– Adapted from the community task force’s April report.

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