Manitoba chiefs slam city’s strategy to remove homeless camps

By | May 15, 2019

A First Nations advocacy organization in Manitoba says it’s disappointed with the City of Winnipeg’s decision to hire an outside contractor to take down temporary homeless shelters and pick up used needles at city parks and other public places.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said in a news release Wednesday it is “deeply concerned” the strategy will make accessing addictions and mental health support more difficult for people experiencing homelessness — most of whom are Indigenous, according to a recent study.

“Societies are judged by how the less fortunate are treated,” AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a written statement.

“At the very least, both the city and the province should consider adopting safe injection sites or increase the amount of homeless shelters in the city.”

The city has issued a request for proposals for a contractor to take on a range of jobs, which includes collecting and discarding of “bulky waste” that makes up temporary shelters, such as mattresses, tarps, shopping carts and garbage.

In its release, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says it hopes to help the city address homelessness, and points to the 2018 Street Census — a community-based research project on the state of homelessness in Winnipeg — which suggests 66 per cent of homeless people are Indigenous.

“We hope that the AMC’s Eagle Urban Transition Centre are asked to assist in solving this homeless crisis, particularly given we just wrapped up a draft First Nation homelessness strategy with End Homelessness Winnipeg,” said Dumas.

A statement from the city Thursday says Winnipeg bylaws prohibit temporary homeless shelters on public property and “all reasonable care” is taken to protect the safety and health of people living in the tents and makeshift shelters.

Spokesperson Ken Allen said the city has contracted out some needle collection in the past, primarily in public areas other than parks, such as under bridges and on sidewalks. City workers with the parks department collect needles in parks, he said. 

“The award of this new contract will ensure there is a consistent resource dedicated to the proper and safe collection and disposal of needles and sharps, without putting additional strain on city core services,” Allen said in an email to CBC News.

“This service agreement includes safe collection and disposal of needles and sharps found in public spaces, bridges, [and] street right-of-ways.”

Calls to the city’s 311 service about needles found in public spaces have been on the rise in recent years, in part due to meth use. 

The city wants the winning bidder of its RFP to start work in August 2019.