BIZ extends its reach

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ adds two to homeless outreach staff

More helping hands will be out on the streets to assist Winnipeg’s most vulnerable.

The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ will add two employees to its Community Homeless Assistance Team (CHAT) program – increasing its team to five – thanks to a $120,000 grant from Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries (MLL). 

“Adding more staff allows us to engage more people on the streets,” Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, says. 

The funding will now allow CHAT to manage 220 clients, up from 120, according to a media release from the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

“The main objective of our staff, who are outreach workers, is to help the most chronic hard-to-house homeless people in our downtown.” 

“Some have been banned from social service agencies, others are just not wanting to be a part of that system and are meandering downtown and need help.”

Launched in 2013, the CHAT program has focused on helping individuals without a home or on the verge of losing their homes, and people with mental health and addiction issues. The initiative aims to help transition people to stable housing, employment and education. 

“People who are at risk of being homeless or are homeless but have significant challenges associated with substance abuse, mental health issues and individuals who are arrested every day because of public intoxication.”

Bev Mehmel, director of corporate social responsibility at MLL, says the organization was excited to learn about the CHAT program.

“Many of the issues facing our downtown today are social issues. The people who live on our streets who are homeless or experience mental health/addictions issues are vulnerable people and need support.”

“As strong supporters of Downtown BIZ, we were pleased to be able to play a role in this important initiative,” Mehmel says.

The CHAT program will aim to help supplement the individual grassroots initiatives started by Winnipeggers looking to help on their own. 

Jennifer Hamilton, a freelance artist and founder of the Warm Like Toast (WLT) project, helps people stay warm over the winter by bringing together a group of volunteers to distribute winter clothing, food and hot drinks to people in need. 

“I had such an amazing experience meeting people and having a direct effect on their day that it really stuck with me and I knew I wanted to do something like it again,” Hamilton says.

Hamilton previously volunteered with Chili from the Heart project, a similar grassroots initiative that is no longer active. 

“It really doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life, even if it’s just a moment, or a meal. Every bit counts and the more we all do the better our community and the world becomes,” Hamilton adds.

“Everyone expresses their thanks, even with hugs sometimes. Once we had a younger man entertain us with a Joker impression in exchange for the things we were giving him.”

Helping those in need doesn’t always mean you have to be physically there.

“Find something that you’re comfortable with. That’s what is great about Warm Like Toast; you can stay home and knit a scarf and you are taking part. You can collect travel-sized shampoos...and you’re taking part,” Hamilton says.

Published in Volume 70, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 28, 2016)

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