Report finds pandemic as new cause of homelessness in Winnipeg

A new report has found that the pandemic was a new cause of homelessness in Winnipeg, with some residents facing difficulties in finding shelter and accessing vaccines.

On Wednesday, End Homelessness Winnipeg released its 2022 Winnipeg Street Census, giving a contextualized look into homelessness in the city.

The Street Census was conducted over a 24-hour period in May 2022, with hundreds of volunteers and staff collecting surveys from shelters, transitional housing sites, bottle depots and community agencies. Surveyors also walked more than 100 kilometres of Winnipeg’s streets, with this year’s Street Census reaching about 1,250 people experiencing homelessness at the time of the survey.

“What we do is through community consultation we develop a survey of questions, so there are 21 questions, and then we train volunteers to then go out and speak to anyone they encounter on the street,” explained Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, in an interview with CTV Morning Live on Thursday.

“We have some screening questions…we let them kind of define whether or not they are experiencing homelessness, and then we go into in-depth questions around their demographics, their age, and then their life experiences.”

Some of the key findings of the Street Census were that COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on Winnipeg’s homeless community, the most common age that people first experienced homeless was 18, and that Indigenous people continue to be overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness.

“Unfortunately, like in 2015 and like in 2018, Indigenous people are far overrepresented in homelessness,” Kehler said.

“It’s really quite shocking. It’s 68 per cent of the people we spoke to were Indigenous.”

In terms of age demographics, the Street Census found 47 seniors living on the street, including one individual in their 80s.

Kehler added there are also youth under the age of 16 experiencing homelessness.

“When we look at their stories and why they’re experiencing homelessness, it’s so clear that it’s systemic and therefore what we need to do is, we need to look at our systems to change them,” she said.

The report offers some recommendations to help find solutions for homelessness, including changing the Child and Family Services (CFS) system, and providing transition support for youth aging out of the system.

“Some people identify themselves first becoming homeless as a teenager, but they were going into the CFS system,” Kehler said.

“From their definition, they were no longer in their home; they were taken from their home and put into the system.”

Kehler noted that Winnipeg also needs safe and affordable housing, adding that though the rent assistance program has helped a great deal, it still sits at 77 per cent of the median market rent, so people still have a gap to make up for.

“We have to build more housing. We have to build more options of housing and we need to make it actually truly affordable.”

– With files from CTV’s Katherine Dow.

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