Winnipeg group wants to end homelessness once and for all

By Mike Albanese and Kelsey Patterson

WINNIPEG (CITYNEWS) – A Winnipeg group is hoping to create positive change from the COVID-19 pandemic – ending homelessness once and for all.

St. Boniface Street Links – an organization that helps the homeless – believe now is the perfect time to get people off the streets thanks to unprecedented collaboration between governments and organizations during the lockdown.

The city’s homeless population is among the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

“It is in everybody’s best interest to come together and see what we can do to get as many people housed as we can,” said Marion Willis, the group’s founder and executive director. “I really think we miss an opportunity if we don’t do this, everybody is so focused right now.”

Willis works with vulnerable populations across Winnipeg. She says her team goes out every single day to provide food and information related to COVID-19. They have been finding people crowded into bus shacks, ATM vestibules, and any place that provides even the slightest bit of shelter.

St. Boniface Street Links believe the City of Winnipeg have done a great job providing care and isolation for vulnerable people. But they think the next logical step is providing the homeless with a home.

“There is political will, there is certainly public support, and support from all kinds of funding sectors to flatten the curve,” said Willis. “That means to get people into places where they can stay in, avoid becoming infected and prevent the community transmission of the virus.

“I think one of the best ways to do that is to get people housed.”

RELATED: Homeless shelters want COVID-19 testing on site

Willis says they’ve recently added 45 vulnerable people to their database. Of those, 38 want housing but only nine currently qualify for services like “Housing First”.

“There needs to be dialogue between Manitoba Housing for example, and Income Assistance and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and organizations like ours that are in contact with unsheltered people everyday,” she said. “We’re building those relationships, and I think if we all come together, there is a demand and we could come up with a supply.”

Willis managed to get one person housed just this weekend, and a bed was donated only 15 minutes after the request was made. She says this shows that the people of Winnipeg are ready for positive action to end homelessness.

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