By The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba has set out a plan to tackle homelessness that includes creating hundreds of new social housing units and implementing more services to deal with the complex issue that worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Families Minister Rochelle Squires said the change in approach is needed to end homelessness, rather than just manage it.
“We recognize that people become homeless when they fall between the cracks and we understand that those cracks are largely provincial systems,” Squires said Tuesday.
“We can and we must do better.”
The program, called A Place for Everyone, focuses on strengthening existing services, helping people transition out of homelessness and increasing co-ordination within provincial departments and among all orders of government.
Squires explained that the province is taking a housing-first approach, which prioritizes stable housing for people experiencing homelessness as a platform to also deliver other supports.
She said 400 housing units are to be added to a rent supplement program and a capital contribution program is to support the development of 300 more.
The Manitoba government is contributing $126 million for the programs.
The province said it consulted with front-line workers, people affected by homelessness and Indigenous leaders to develop the programs. Squires said they were told that any plan would need to address the root causes and special needs of people who are unhoused.
Provincial funding for shelters is to increase so they can be open all hours during the winter months.
“No one chooses to be homeless,” said Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham.
Communities across the country are facing the challenge of how to respond to an increased number of unhoused people and the spread of opioids, Gillingham said. Winnipeg has said the number of reports of people sleeping in bus shelters more than doubled between 2019 and 2021.
He added the long-term housing-first approach has proven to be successful.
“Solving the housing part of the equation first is so important,” Gillingham said.
Opposition New Democrats housing critic Nahanni Fontaine said the Progressive Conservative government previously sold off affordable units and slashed the maintenance budget for Manitoba Housing, which provides subsidized accommodations throughout the province.
“Families need a safe and secure place to live and the PCs aren’t delivering,” Fontaine said in a news release.
Jason Whitford, chief executive officer of End Homelessness Winnipeg, said making sure people have a place to call home is also part of reconciliation. It is hard work, Whitford said, but it’s essential.
“Everybody has gifts and talents, and we need to create opportunities and pathways for them,” he said.
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon