A grassroots community group called Accountable on Atlantic (AOA) is helping take people off the streets of Winnipeg and into homes.
“When I opened the doors, I was mainly in the thought of helping out gentlemen like myself coming out of recovery. But then I started growing it’s just like hey I could help out more people,” said Junior Kozak, whose real name is Russell Lee Abraham, is founder of AOA.
“It’s all given for free. People just see what we’re doing, they’re dropping off food daily, clothes and when we get an abundance of it, we share it with the neighbourhood. We go to each door, we go wherever in all our neighbourhood,” Kozak said.
He added having the majority of homes in the North End is important.
“We’re all up here in the North End. I wanted to get here because they said that a lot of people in treatment centres they told me you should go to St. James you should go to St. B you should go to St. Vital, it’s like no, the problem is here. I grew up in these hoods man I know what’s needed.”
The name Accountable on Atlantic is based off of the location of the organizations headquarters, which happens to be the first home Kozak opened on Atlantic Ave. in Winnipeg.
They work with numerous organizations in the city including Strength in the Circle, which aims to treat trauma and give a sense of purpose to those who have been incarcerated.
“There’s a lack in awareness, that distorted view of your self perception. So we need to challenge that. We need to push that awareness, we need people to know where they come from, who they truly are and look at the resilience demonstrated to get to where we’re at today so we can move forward in a better way,” said Jonathan Meikle, founder of the group who added they may be different organizations, but they are all working as one towards the same goal.
“We need to start connecting with each other, as individuals, as organizations, as a community, as a people. We need to all work together and stop with that crabs in a bucket effect and stop trying to climb over each other and trying to, as leaders, we don’t need to think hierarchically, we need to think of lifting our people with us, not below us.”
Craig Michael Lavand works with both organizations and says making sure the tenants have everything they need is the number one priority.
“I’m helping people like myself that have been through the system, that have been broken. You know the forgotten, the people that have just been written off. It’s time that we stand up and have that warrior spirit in us and just you know we can’t take that anymore.”
Accountable on Atlantic has nine homes throughout the city with a tenth home on the way.
Both Lavand and Kozak live in the home that serves as their headquarters.
Homes are filled one person per room and rent is $500, which covers rent, food and utilities. Kozak said if tenants cannot pay the rent, the organization will cover the rent in some way.
Rent is paid for by social support, donations or if a tenant qualifies, through disability payments or employment.
Kozak said once a tenant is ready to move out on their own, Accountable on Atlantic will rent an apartment in their name and help an individual get on good standing.
“When they’re with us for a good while and they feel confident we will rent out a place under our own name for them for a year, help them build up the damage deposit everything. If they feel comfortable sign it over to them, they got their own home.
The organization is constantly in communication with detox centres and other support services should someone need treatment.
“We want to work with people, try to find a solution, we have good rapport with other treatment centres, detox so if we had that we needed to send them in we say hey we give a call ‘we’re going to send so and so to you is that cool?’ Yes because we’ve done a lot of work there and people respect us.”
The organization has been running since March of 2020, and was registered as a non-profit in September 2020. They are also starting a ride share program with Dhillon Automotive Group in Winnipeg to help get tenants around the city.