The Manitoba government is unveiling a new strategy for addressing homelessness that will fund up to 700 new social housing units this year and introduce new wrap-around services to help those experiencing homelessness.
"We are focusing on helping people who are vulnerable and addressing the root causes of homelessness in a holistic way," says Families Minister Rochelle Squire. "Finding and retaining housing for people experiencing homelessness is a complex challenge that requires collaboration across all levels of government, community-based organizations and the community at large. The strategy is based on the knowledge shared by service providers, Indigenous leaders and people with lived experience."
The targeted investments recognize that homelessness is a complex issue, stemming from structural factors, system failures, and Canada’s history of colonialism, added Squires.
"Homelessness and addiction are two of the biggest issues facing Winnipeg today," says Mayor Scott Gillingham. "The housing-first approach, combined with on-site wraparound services is a proven successful model that can enhance the quality of life and health-care outcomes."
The whole-of-government strategy, A Place for Everyone, provides for a community-wide approach to help people find and retain housing. It focuses on strengthening existing services, helping people transition out of homelessness, and increasing coordination within provincial departments and among all levels of government. The Manitoba government is contributing $126 million for targeted initiatives to shift efforts from managing to ending chronic homelessness.
To help people transition out of homelessness, Squires said 700 new social housing units will be built this year through a combination of construction and rent supplement agreements. The focus on housing supply will give priority to community-based housing intended to help people with support needs. In addition to new units, the Manitoba government is also increasing the maintenance budget for existing social housing stock to support the repair of vacant rental units and overall condition upgrades.
The minister noted the immediate priority is to invest in strengthening services and then help people find and retain housing. To support these objectives, provincial funding for emergency shelters will increase to enable 24-7 operation in the winter months. It will also allow shelters to offer better case management services, programs to support well-being and shelter during periods of extreme weather.
"We think one of the keys to reducing homelessness, particularly in the short run, is simply building more housing because there is a huge shortage now for people in that situation. So we are very pleased to see, and thankful for, the increased funding for new supportive housing in the strategy," says John Pollard, president of Home First Winnipeg.
The whole-of-government strategy is comprised of five pillars, each of which addresses a critical area of the Manitoba government’s homelessness response:
- modernizing the emergency response
- ensuring housing is provided with supports
- focusing on prevention
- developing person-centered services
- building capacity in rural and northern Manitoba.
"We are pleased that this strategy mirrors End Homelessness Winnipeg’s commitments,’" says Jason Whitford, CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg. "We look forward to a continued respectful relationship working in partnership with the Manitoba government to ensure this plan is successful. As an Indigenous organization, I think it bodes well that they recognize the importance of Reconciliation and Indigenous-led resources in this process."
Last year, the Manitoba government engaged with over 400 people and groups across the province including service providers, Indigenous leaders and people with lived experience. Participants called for a strategy that would address the root causes of homelessness and the special needs of individuals who are experiencing homelessness or are precariously housed.
"We heard about the need to strengthen existing services, build a more fulsome continuum of support options and eliminate barriers to access," says Squires.
The announcement builds on $68 million in previously announced commitments to address homelessness including:
- increasing the basic needs budget for people on Employment and Income Assistance and the index rates for Rent Assist
- providing operating funds for N’Dinawemak
- training shelter support workers with critical skills in mental health and addictions, de-escalation techniques and trauma-informed care
- tripling the number of provincial mentors to support and help people transition out of homelessness and increasing salaries to retain them
- providing funds for an overflow space at the homeless shelter in Brandon.