Winnipeg mayoral candidates address city’s homelessness crisis

Tackling homelessness is a key issue for the crowded field of mayoral candidates in Winnipeg’s upcoming municipal election.

Candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette says, if elected, he would go back to a plan put forward by End Homelessness Winnipeg the last time he ran for mayor, in 2014.

That plan, he said, was never fully realized due to a lack of leadership at all levels of government, and if he becomes mayor, it’s something he intends to implement.

“What we’re planning on doing is building 1,340 homes; there are over 1,500 people who are homeless in our city,” Ouellette told 680 CJOB’s The Start.

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“We need to make sure they get housing, get off the streets. We need to make sure we do addictions treatment, making sure that treatment is timely, that they can have good recovery services.

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“The province has been ignoring this for a long time — if the city needs to go this alone and do things on their own, then I think we’ve come to that point.”

Ouellette said he doesn’t think homeless encampments should be allowed, nor does he think people should be allowed to sleep in bus shelters.

“I think we have to provide housing for people,” he said. “We need to make sure they have transitional housing and those supports.”

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Candidate Scott Gillingham says he has a plan involving modular homes.

“(I would) build modular homes on City of Winnipeg property with federal funds that are available,” he said.

“By building those modular homes and providing services with agencies — providing services to assist people — we can get more people off the street and into housing.”

Gillingham told 680 CJOB’s The Start that if he is elected, he would work in partnership with the province to address homelessness and addiction, and would also dedicate a member of his mayoral staff to work specifically on the homeless issue.

“It’s that important, that I would as mayor make sure one of my staff members is point person, liaising with and working with community organizations and agencies to secure federal and provincial funding … but also to ensure that we are working in partnership with groups like End Homelessness, St. Boniface Street Links, and Main Street Project.”

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Rick Shone told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg that city leaders need to be honest with themselves and admit there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the issue of homelessness.

“There’s no easy solution to this. There’s many, many things that cause people to be experiencing homelessness … and they don’t all have the same solutions,” he said.

“We need to provide housing first — once somebody is in a stable environment, then we can actually start helping them and providing the supports that they need.”

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Shone said he’ll be launching a plan that talks about creating “rapid response-type situations,” like tiny home villages, that aren’t intended as permanent fixes, but serve an important purpose.

“They’re not long-term housing, but what we want to be able to do is get people from the street and into temporary housing immediately where we can start helping them… and also help them to understand what it is to move back into a house. Just giving them that experience is important.”

The next step, he said, is to take a closer look at the city’s housing stock and the types of housing that’s being built here, as well as getting vacant houses back into use so there’s a larger amount of affordable housing options available.

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Click to play video: 'Winnipeg mayoral candidates on derelict buildings'

Winnipeg mayoral candidates on derelict buildings

Glen Murray, who previously held the position of Winnipeg’s mayor from 1998 to 2004, said he has long been an advocate for the creation of affordable housing — citing his work with organizations like Habitat for Humanity as well as the housing renewal programs he introduced in his first go-round at City Hall.

Murray told 680 CJOB’s Connecting Winnipeg that ensuring people have a place to live while they are receiving necessary supports to fight addictions and other issues is paramount.

“If you don’t have a key to a safe place to live, you’re not going to get a job and you’re not going to get into an addictions program. So housing is the underpinning,” he said.

Read more: Indigenous people more likely to have housing issues as population grows: StatCan

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“You need to get people into detox programs. When they get out of detox they have to have housing and there can’t be a gap or else they’re back on the street. They need to get immediately into the treatment and recovery program.”

Murray said building affordable units across the city will be a boon for Winnipeg as a whole — something he learned as mayor as well as through his efforts with street outreach and working directly with the population struggling to stay housed.

“When you invest in affordable housing, you are building the tax base and you are eventually reducing the tax burden … and people who say contrary are just dead wrong.”

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg mayoral race: Oct 12'

Winnipeg mayoral race: Oct 12

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