Mayoral hopeful wants to bring Winnipeg non-profits together for homelessness advisory group

A Winnipeg mayoral candidate wants to bring all organizations working with the city’s homeless population together to tackle the issues — despite differing opinions on what vulnerable people need.

Kevin Klein, who is currently the city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, says he’d create an advisory group to address homelessness in Winnipeg if elected mayor. That group — made up of not-for-profits, councillors and city staff — would advise council and city staff.

“Sometimes these organizations go off on their own and work in pillars, and that can have an impact on the full success,” Klein said during a Thursday news conference at Guay Park, which sits between St. Mary’s Road and the Red River.

“As mayor, I want to bring these groups to one table. I want to have the conversation. I wanna find who’s best in what area, and how we can work together.”

Klein said he would co-ordinate city funding for different groups that work with vulnerable people to focus on “outcomes as a result of the funding.”

Klein, a current city councillor, says if elected mayor, he will create a new advisory group to address homelessness in Winnipeg. (Sam Samson/CBC)

However, groups that work with homeless people in Winnipeg sometimes have differing opinions on best practices.

That was clear during a summer debate on how to handle safety concerns around city bus shelters, where some people were living.

Coun. Shawn Nason consulted Marion Willis of St. Boniface Street Links on how to help people living in the shelters. That patrol group works to build relationships with people on the street and address root issues of homelessness.

Willis and her team initially said it would be best to clear out shelters if possible and house people immediately.

But other groups in the sector opposed the idea of removing people from the bus shelters, and instead pushed for more long-term solutions like supervised consumption sites.

In the end, city council against moving to clear out the shelters.

City has ‘hit an all-time low’: Willis

Willis, who joined Klein at his Thursday morning campaign announcement, said she doesn’t disparage other groups, but feels like her voice isn’t being heard.

“I have not entered a room more dysfunctional than city hall,” she said.

“The city has kind of hit an all-time low. We hold the dubious distinction on a per capita basis of carrying some of the worst social indicator stats of any city across this country. It’s absolutely frightening.”

“With the number of homicides, the number of people that are dying of fentanyl deaths, the property crime, the violent crimes — all of this was predictable, and we have predicted it.”

Klein said he’s aware the first steps with his proposed advisory group wouldn’t be easy.

“I know the first few meetings will probably be very difficult, but I believe wholeheartedly that if we don’t give it a chance, it’s just gonna grow, and we’re not going to be able to fix it … anytime soon,” he said.

Other advocates from the homeless sector told CBC they already meet regularly, including meetings with some city representatives. 

The groups say they met weekly during the height of the pandemic, and now meet once or twice a month.

BIZ hiring men recovering from homelessness

Klein also wants to have all of the city’s business improvement zone organizations hire people who have faced employment barriers, in order to help them enter the workforce.

He got the idea from the Old St. Vital BIZ, which is now working with St. Boniface Street Links to hire men who have experienced homelessness or are recovering from addictions.

The BIZ contacted Street Links earlier in the pandemic to help them address fires at homeless encampments.

“Literally the next day, Marion [Willis] showed up with her outreach team. That was the beginning of our relationship,” said Nancy Cooke, the BIZ president and a member of Klein’s campaign team.

“With the great work they do — getting people housed, getting people into recovery — I was compelled to say, ‘What can we do to help you?'”

Two men from Street Links will take on landscaping and outdoor cleanup work starting Friday until snowfall for the Old St. Vital BIZ, as part of what Cooke describes as a pilot program.

She said if all goes well, the BIZ will write the men recommendation letters that could help them get more stable jobs.

Klein also said Wednesday that as mayor, he would find money to help anyone who wants to become a city employee, but doesn’t have a high school diploma, get their high school credentials.

He wouldn’t say how much that would cost, but said “it can’t be much,” and added he thinks the money could even come from the mayor’s allowance.

Klein is among 14 candidates running to replace Brian Bowman as mayor

The others are Idris Adelakun, Rana Bokhari, Chris Clacio, Scott Gillingham, Shaun Loney, Jenny Motkaluk, Glen Murray, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Jessica Peebles, Rick Shone, Govind Thawani, Desmond Thomas and Don Woodstock.

Mayoral hopeful wants to bring non-profits together for homelessness advisory group

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Kevin Klein, who is currently the city councillor for Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood, says he’d create an advisory group to address homelessness in Winnipeg if elected mayor. That group — made up of not-for-profits, councillors and city staff — would advise council and city staff.

Election day is Oct. 26.

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