Advocate for homeless population says California initiative could work in Winnipeg

A California city is sharing its unique plan to help those experiencing homelessness in the hopes it catches on elsewhere.

The City of Elk Grove’s public services manager, Sarah Bontrager, told 680 CJOB the project has been a big success so far — and has completely changed the tone of interactions between city workers and Elk Grove’s homeless population.

“We go out and we give out trash bags, and then we go out two weeks later and if folks living in the encampments have bagged their own trash, then they get a $20 gift card that can be used in one of the grocery stores or dollar stores,” said Bontrager.

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“Previously, when folks would see our outreach officers coming, they wouldn’t be too excited… but now they’ve very excited — they’ve got their trash all bagged up, sometimes they help us load it onto the truck, and then they get their gift card.”

Bontrager said the initiative also represents a significant savings over paying city employees to clean things up — which used to cost over $1,000 every time they went out.

When the program was launched, she said, some believed it would encourage more homeless people to migrate to the city, but that hasn’t been the case so far.

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Al Wiebe, an advocate for Winnipeg’s homeless population, told 680 CJOB that a similar initiative could work here, with a few tweaks.

“I think it’s a good idea — but I always say when I do training on homelessness, give people cash. When you give people gift cards, it kind of means that you don’t trust them with money — that’s kind of the implication,” said Wiebe.

“It empowers people — they’re doing something positive, they’re getting paid for it, and that’s always a good thing. The greatest casualty of homelessness is the lack of self-respect and self-worth and dignity.”

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Wiebe said he’s currently involved with the Main Street Project’s efforts to beautify the area around the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority building, and that a grant has been applied for that includes providing compensation for people who help with the cleanup.

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More homeless camps in Winnipeg – Jul 16, 2020

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