Grassroots organizations, community come together to support Winnipeg’s homeless

Grassroots organizations in Winnipeg are taking action to try and help the city’s homeless keep warm during the region’s cold snap.

In recent weeks a cold spell has brought bitterly cold temperatures which can reach below -40 C at night, and those temperatures can kill.

Groups like Anishiative and Mama Bear Clan are setting up warming tents and teepees to keep people warm.

“We have all kinds of groups coming together and working in unison, working together like brothers and sisters for a common goal, it’s a real passion out here. You got Mama Bear, OPK, Anishiative,” said Mitch Bourbonniere, a community outreach worker who works with numerous organizations in the city including Mama Bear Clan.

“All kinds of groups are coming it’s just there’s a flow of donations, person power, wood, you know food. Clothing, parkas, everything. Everybody is coming together, everybody’s working together it’s unbelievable.”

Over 60 per cent of Winnipeg’s homeless are Indigenous according to a 2018 Winnipeg street census.

Many go to temporary shelters if there is room or bus shelters to stay warm.

“What our main goal is this is a welcoming community for anyone who needs it on the streets. And we want to make sure that, you know we’ve already had too many casualties on the streets of our brothers and sisters due to the cold so we really want to make sure that people are warm,” said Anishiative volunteer River Nepinak-Fontaine.

Bourbonniere says they are checking these shelters to bring people out of the cold and into the huts.

“We’re going around every night, we’re visiting all the bus shacks and we’re transporting people here so that they can be in a warm teepee, so that they can be around the culture, so that they can smudge, so that they can hear the songs you know and talk to elders so it’s been unbelievable, it’s been so fantastic. One of the greatest I’ve ever been involved in.”

The City of Winnipeg is also opening up some libraries for those homeless to have a warm place to stay.

Manitoba Liberal leader Douglad Lamont says the current measures in place aren’t good enough.

“It’s not enough to just say well you’re in a shelter right now we’re going to make sure you’re warm for 12 hours and then we’re going to kick you out on the street. We need permanent housing, we need for people who need mental health supports we need mental health. For people who need addiction support we need that,” Lamont said.

“But the important thing is the first step is recognizing that all these people who are struggling are human beings and that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect like the rest of us.”

The Manitoba Liberals released their own report on homelessness in the city in early February. The report makes ten recommendations including organizing a city-wide coordinated approach to supporting and contacting mobile help units and using a fast-track approach to put people in an apartment or a hotel room.

Cheryl Bear is part of the Peguis First Nation wood harvesting program. The program gathers firewood and distributes it for events like traditional fires and supplying community members for warmth. Bear says when she saw the need for donations, she knew they had to help.

“When we seen the need for, you know when they’re having the community caring camp, we decided that along with chief and council we got the direction to get wood, harvest the wood because we’ve been harvesting wood for them past three months,” said Bear.

“We’re just happy and honoured to be able to bring wood to you know the community caring camp.”

Volunteers expect to be at the site for the next three weeks while the weather passes, but they would like to make it an annual occurrence to help those unsheltered battle the cold.

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