People living on the streets face more and more danger each day, but they are also met with compassion from street outreach workers trying to keep up.
Outreach workers are expecting another difficult winter in Winnipeg as addiction struggles and violence on the street continue to be high.
"There is kind of this feeling (that) things aren't quite as safe on the streets in Winnipeg as they used to be," Union Gospel Mission's senior chaplain Mark Kelm says, who started ministering with UGM eight years ago.
Kate Armstrong, the marketing and public relations coordinator at Resource Assistance for Youth (RAY), says now they could help as many as one thousand children and young people taking up residence on the street, including some living under bridges and in camps, every month. More than half of the people they see are victims of crime.
"There is a danger to those on the street, but there is more danger to our unsheltered relatives. There is this misconception that people in poverty are 'criminals but they are also far, far more likely to be victims of crime," Armstong says. "It is very easy to write them off as dangerous but it takes some of the blame off of the climate and situation that creates that nature."
On Thursday, a 41-year-old man died after an early-morning altercation inside an Osborne Village-area bus shelter. On Monday, we reached out to the Winnipeg Police Service to ask what they were doing to increase safety at bus shelters and were directed to the Transit Advisory Committee.
Councilor Matt Allard, the chair of the committee, responded in an email statement saying, "I was horrified to hear the news about the suspicious death in a Winnipeg bus shelter. The City of Winnipeg has invested considerable time and resources into transit safety on board buses in the recent years, led by our Transit Advisory Committee of transit stakeholders. We will discuss this incident at our next meeting, while awaiting the outcome of the Winnipeg Police investigation."
In the past year, incidents at bus shelters have included a man pointing a gun at pedestrians taking refuge inside an occupied shelter in March, and in February, two people were stabbed days apart at a bus shelter on Portage Avenue. This winter, people will continue to seek refuge from the blistering cold in bus shelters across the city.
Kelm says it has gotten more difficult for people who are unsheltered in Winnipeg compared to when he started almost a decade ago. The chaplain says police protection there, but the amount of violence is very high. He says police cannot keep up with demands.
UGM experiencing difficulties on the street and at home
"There is so much violence going on. It is very overwhelming for the police as well. There are times when someone will call for help from the police and it may take a while to get there because they are so busy with all the other stuff going on in the city."
Other victims cannot call the police if they have no cell phone.
High levels of addiction
Kelm says the biggest problem they are seeing is the increase in crystal meth users, saying people under the influence act differently, often becoming enraged and acting out against others. UGM is experiencing this violence both on the streets at their drop-in.
Kelm says this has led to people living on the street branching out to areas further from shelters and missions like his for a safer night's sleep.
"The main thing is we want to show them that there are people who care for them, people who love them because when you live on the street life is pretty rough. You don't get a lot of love and care by people and we want people to know that they are loved by Christ."
Kelm is asking for prayers for his workers, those on the street, and first responders. He hopes more people will join them in their street ministry.
"A lot of people who are homeless, the way that they are treated often, they do not even feel like they are human beings sometimes. They need to be reminded that, yes, they are. Not only are they human beings but they have been created by God and they are loved by God.
Armstrong says there are some heavy days working with young people, but "they are so resilient, they are so intelligent, they are so much more than what, I think, society gives them credit for."
Both Kelm and Armstrong say drug use is prevalent.
"The atmosphere on the streets right now is extremely challenging. We are seeing different drug use and violence in ways that we haven't before," Armstrong says. "One of the biggest challenges we are seeing on the streets right now is overdose death."
She says in the past they might have done as many as four resuscitations total every two years, but now, they do as many as four every week. RAY has handed out over 2,000 kits so far this year.
"It can be heavy sometimes. These young people have been just kicked when they are down a lot of the time. Homelessness doesn't occur in a vacuum, it is something that social policy creates."
On Tuesday the provincial government read the speech from the throne. One of the addressed topics was improving access and coordination of mental health and addictions services. In an afternoon press conference, Premier Heather Stefanson addressed the present immediate need for addictions support, highlighting the recent opening of a shelter at 190 Disraeli Freeway.