‘A human cost’

Addressing houselessness during Winnipeg winters

Jamil Mahmood, executive director of the Main Street Project, says unhoused Winnipeggers will need extra help as temperatures drop this winter. (Photo by Keeley-Braunstein Black)

Between 2010 and 2017, 100 hypothermia deaths were recorded in Manitoba, 24 of which occurred in Winnipeg. During this period, the average extreme temperature for the month of February was -27.4ºC, which is especially concerning for the city’s houseless population.

The severe temperatures aren’t supposed to improve this winter. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, the upcoming season will be “frigid,” especially in the Rockies and Prairies. Many locals dread these conditions, but they can be a matter of life or death for the approximately 1,100 Winnipeggers who lack access to adequate shelter.

Jamil Mahmood, the executive director of Main Street Project, says there are a few ways people can help. Main Street Project is a community centre that seeks to help marginalized people, especially those experiencing houselessness and addiction.

Mahmood says people belonging to these vulnerable groups “can be some of the most isolated individuals in the city.” He emphasizes a need for positive interaction and immediate relief, which can look like providing warm meals, inquiring about people’s wellbeing and calling for transportation to temporary shelters.

However, these are short-term solutions. To prevent more exposure deaths and eradicate houselessness in Winnipeg, the city needs to change – and a number of candidates in this month’s municipal election propose solutions to this crisis.

Daniel McIntyre city-council candidates Omar Kinnarath, Sal Infantino and Cindy Gilroy all pledge to address houselessness throughout Winnipeg. When individually asked about long-term solutions, each candidate agreed that a housing-first initiative based on affordable housing and social programs is the only viable solution. Mahmood agrees. Infantino specifically says that such a program will require learning. “What’s wrong with looking at a study that’s actually in play and studying that?” he asks.

Infantino mentions Finland, a country known for their housing-first strategy that has a similar climate to parts of Canada, including Winnipeg. “There are so many things there that we can learn ... (but) the learning curve is the most expensive part of any problem solving.”

To Kinnarath, prioritization and budget have been major barriers to progress on the issue. He says houselessness needs to be a central focus for all city councillors and stresses the need for immediate investment. “It’s all about investing in people,” he says. “Homelessness has a human cost.”

Gilroy says “we are at crisis level” and notes that provincial funding must be combined with municipal action to truly help Winnipeggers who lack access to consistent, safe shelter.

Winnipeggers will elect a new mayor and slate of city councillors on Oct. 26. Information about candidates and their campaign promises is available on the City of Winnipeg website. Advance voting locations are available throughout the city.

Published in Volume 77, Number 05 of The Uniter (October 6, 2022)

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