New Winnipeg warming space to provide up to 150 beds for those facing homelessness

End Homelessness Winnipeg will work with a group of Indigenous-led organizations to open a new warming space that will provide up to 150 overnight beds for those facing homelessness this winter. 

The province announced $1.5 million in funding for End Homelessness Winnipeg on Friday to open the space at 190 Disraeli Freeway — a site provided by a private-sector partner, the province said in a news release.

The warming space will be operated with guidance from a coalition of Indigenous social services organizations  — OPK (Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin), Anishiative and Community.204 — working together under the name Saabe Peacewalkers.

The coalition, working with End Homelessness, the Manitoba government and the City of Winnipeg, will provide a variety of services and supports for people experiencing homelessness at the new centre, which has been given the name N’Dinawemak – Our Relatives.

A variety of services will be provided at the centre. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Premier Heather Stefanson said the province recognizes the need for more spaces for people facing homelessness that are Indigenous-led and easier to access, especially now that winter weather has arrived.

“For many of us, the snow and colder weather we’re experiencing is simply an inconvenience, but for many Manitobans, the snow and colder weather presents a far more serious threat,” Stefanson said. 

The goal is to provide a place where people can not only get out of the cold, but access the resources they need to address some of the issues in their lives, said Jason Whitford, chief executive officer of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs spoke at the announcement of the new overnight warming space. He said it is an example of how creative solutions are needed to address the issue of homelessness. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The organization’s latest street census — which provides a snapshot of the rate of homelessness in the city over one 24-hour period — found more than 1,100 people experiencing varying levels of homelessness last April.

The report, released earlier this month, said a third of those counted in the census — 370 — were unsheltered people living in parks, bus shelters, entryways and vacant lots, and not accessing emergency supports.

It also found at least two-thirds of the people using emergency shelters and transitional housing spaces were Indigenous.

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the centre announced Friday is an example of how creative solutions are needed to address the issue of homelessness. 

“Making things uncomfortable for people who are literally in a bad situation is not acceptable. We have to find innovative ways,” he said. 

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Conrad Woodford, who lives at the nearby Salvation Army shelter, knows some people experiencing homelessness appreciate being on their own.

“That’s what they prefer. They know the streets well. They know where to hang out, where to sleep,” he said. “If that’s their preference, that’s their choice.”

But he hopes they don’t refuse places to stay warm as the weather gets colder. 

Woodford is expecting to soon find a permanent home now that he’s got a job working with an electrician.

Starting Friday, Saabe Peacewalkers will operate a 24-7 outdoor warming space with support from the Downtown Community Safety Partnership, which will have two teepees and supervised fires.

An outdoor component of the warming centre is now open and will be operated by Saabe Peacewalkers with support from Downtown Community Safety Partnership. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

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