‘A big challenge for us’: Winnipeg shelters say they don’t have enough beds this winter

With only enough beds to sleep one third of the unsheltered population in Winnipeg, emergency shelters are hoping to have enough beds for everyone who asks for one.

Normand Bedard is a member of Winnipeg’s unsheltered population, a group estimated to have roughly 1,500 people.

“I lost my home two years ago and it’s been the hardest time of my life,” Bedard said. “Last winter I spent it outside until the end of November. If one of my friends hadn’t rescued me and brought me in, I would have froze to death.”

Both a volunteer and resident at Siloam Mission’s shelter, Bedard is glad to have a bed to count on this winter.

“I’m hoping within a month I have a place, but in the meantime, I have this wonderful place to sleep at.”

Siloam Mission CEO Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud says they have seen an increase in demand.

 “I think a big challenge for us is that we know that there’s not enough beds for the amount of people that are experiencing homelessness or living in encampments right now,” Whitecloud said.

There are roughly 500 emergency shelter beds across the city, less than one third of the unhoused population.

Main Street Project’s Community Initiatives Director Kate Sjoberg says they plan for each winter.

“People will stay in for longer or they will stay in for the entire night,” Sjoberg said.

1JustCity is hoping to help, opening its spaces to more activities than usual.

“We’re starting up some of these programs so that there’ll be a little less time outside on the severe cold,” 1JustCity’s Oak Table site lead Harvey Heater said.

Starting on November 1, it is opening up a winter program called just a warm sleep.

“Basically, that name implies what it is – just a space to go in the evening out of the cold,” Housing and Shelter Lead Devin Bray said.

For those in the cold – 1justcity says warm clothing is needed.

“Socks are really life changing when your feet are literally your house,” Whitecloud said.

Sjoberg says housing is key this winter.

“The best way to ensure that everyone is safe is to house them right away,” Sjoberg said.

The City of Winnipeg says it has recently completed the homelessness emergency response plan to consolidate the roles of local organizations supporting people who are unsheltered.

It says winter is a critical time to coordinate with community organizations who work with this population. 

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