Bus shelters last resort for homeless population

WINNIPEG — Winter has arrived in Winnipeg, and for people experiencing homelessness, finding a warm place to sleep can be a challenge.

Stats from the City of Winnipeg show an increase in people sleeping in bus shelters in the months of March, April, and May in 2020 compared to 2019 (stats for October, November and December of this year are not available).

Sherri Shorting lives in Winnipeg, she was driving around the city on Christmas night when she noticed a lot of people sleeping in a bus shelter on Osborne Street.

“I counted them, there was like nine people in that shack,” said Shorting. “I didn’t have anything and I felt really bad because it was Christmas, so I went to McDonald’s and bought nine McDouble meals.”

Shorting wanted to help more, but she also wanted to understand firsthand what people sleeping in bus shelters are going through.

“I decided that I was going to go sleep in the bus shelter, and I have family that is coming with me that’s going to be there with me as a support. I want to make signs to put around the shelter to raise awareness.”

Director of Development at the Main Street Project, Anastasia Ziprick said COVID-19 measures have impacted the number of safe spaces available for people experiencing homelessness.

“The closing down of a lot of places where people used to find respite in the cold. So libraries, walkways, malls, all those places being closed, (now) people are looking for a place to keep warm.”

Ziprick said the Main Street Project has a van patrol that runs 24/7.

The outreach team visits people sleeping outside or in bus shelters to offer them supplies and supports.

Wednesday, the Manitoba Liberals released a report on homelessness demanding emergency support for people experiencing homelessness, and for people at risk of becoming homeless due to COVID-19.

“For people living in shelters, there isn’t a place for them to go in the day,” said Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont. “There’s no place for them to warm up, you might have a place to stay overnight, but come day time there’s no place to go.”

The Liberal’s report is recommending empty office buildings and community centres operate as a safe space during the day so people can stay warm.

In a statement to CTV News Minister of Families, Heather Stefanson said:

“Since the start of the pandemic, we have invested $3.5 million to expand homeless shelter capacity. This includes funding to support over 100 new overnight shelter beds at Main Street Project, 50 new beds at Siloam Mission, and 20 housing units for at-risk youth through Resource Assistance for Youth (RAY). We have also invested $1.6 million to operate a COVID-19 isolation space specifically for the homeless,” the statement said.

Shorting has been going out every night since Christmas to support people sleeping in bus shelters.

She plans on fundraising and putting the money towards people experiencing homelessness.

“I’d just love to see more people stepping up and helping, and using their voice to bring awareness to what’s going on.” 

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