Winnipeg organizations work to help vulnerable people cope in cold snap

Winnipeg organizations are working to help vulnerable people through the current cold snap. The temperature in the city on Sunday is currently -24 and it’s forecast to dip to -29 come Monday morning.

A pop-up warming shelter run by Saint Boniface Street Links out of a city-owned building on Saint Mary’s Road has opened up to support Winnpeggers who may not have the option to protect themselves from the cold.

“If it weren’t for the organization, I might be dead,” said Robert of Winnipeg, who is experiencing addictions and homelessness. Global News is not using his last name to protect his identity.

Robert is living on the streets and is currently recovering from frostbite on his feet. He told Global News that shelters are filled to the brim and often feel quite unsafe.

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“Every five minutes, someone is having a really loud and aggressive outburst and it triggers everybody else in space, it’s just like a pressure cooker.”

And since re-opening the warming space on Wednesday, Saint Boniface Street Links’ executive director Marion Willis said beds have been at or beyond capacity.

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“We opened a few days in advance of the cold weather just to do some planning,” she said.

Willis said this shelter model is a little different because people don’t have to leave. They can stay the entire time as long as the shelter remains open.

“This shelter will remain open until the weather breaks.”

Meanwhile, Jason Whitford with End Homelessness Winnipeg said other shelters are also bursting at the seams.

However, he said around $250,000 in new funding from the federal government is available to the sector this winter during extreme weather events, and it is making a difference during the cold snap.

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“There’s eligibility and what triggers it is this extreme weather and weather alerts from Environment Canada.”

Whitford said the need within the community during cold spells and extreme weather — weather events when resources are needed and there’s added pressure that results in added costs — is being recognized.

However, Willis said everyone who arrived at the shelter arrived through its outreach team, which could shut down if it can’t secure more funding.

“We’re a highly impactful organization, but the impactful organization will sink like the Titanic pretty soon if the government doesn’t step up,” Willis said.

“The general outreach workers are actually housing workers and their success is really measured by their ability to go into encampments, into transit shelters, public places, connect with anybody anywhere that is living unsheltered, and link them to income supports right away.”

And the importance of outreach is something Whitford also talked about.

“The additional outreach is extremely valuable. The added presence on the street through the [Sabe Peace Walkers], and organizations not relying entirely on donations but having the ability to go to a wholesaler place and get those essential items.”

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Progress is being made to help Winnipeg’s most vulnerable and there’s still work to be done. Willis hopes each person who walks through the doors of Saint Boniface Street Links will leave with plans for housing and income assistance and that more resources will help them stay afloat.

With files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel

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