Seniors groups protest at city hall over use of community centre

By | October 15, 2020

The city of Winnipeg isn’t helping seniors stay active and out of care homes: that is just part of the message from a group of protesters who appeared at city hall Thursday.

Members of the Good Neighbours Active Living Centre were joined by the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres at the protest, which centred on a dispute between Good Neighbours and the city over a facility use agreement at the Bronx Park Community Centre.

John Feldsted, the chair of the Good Neighbours, says his group has been fighting “passive resistance” from city bureaucrats for a decade over getting a written contract with the city, and has finally turned to the courts.

Good Neighbours is suing the the city, saying it hasn’t honoured an agreement brokered in July 2009 that gave both Good Neighbours and the Bronx Park Community Centre equal authority to govern operations at the facility. The allegations have not been proven in court.

John Feldsted of Good Neighbours Active Living Centre says the centre just wants the city to do the right thing. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

Good Neighbours says it received a notice from the city in July 2019 suggesting the seniors group would become a tenant in the East Kildonan facility, instead of a partner.

The move would mean Good Neighbours would have to pay rent — something its leadership says would bankrupt the group.

Feldsted says the city seems to be getting in the way of keeping older residents out of care homes and hospitals. According to Good Neighbours, it’s the city’s largest seniors centre, with more than 1,150 members.

“Active and engaged seniors are living better, they are happier, they’re healthier and they are living longer than ever before,” Feldsted told CBC News at the protest.

Tom Farrell, the president of Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, says what’s happening to Good Neighbours is happening to seniors organizations around the city. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The city, Feldsted says, should at least be sitting down with Good Neighbours or hiring an arbitrator to help negotiate some sort of agreement. Instead, the two sides are in court.

Tom Farrell, president of the Manitoba Association of Senior Centres, said what’s happening at the community centre is “absolutely ludicrous.”

Farrell, who was at the protest Thursday, said similar problems are happening at other locations across Winnipeg.

“[At the] Pembina Active Living [Centre], those poor buggers are hopping from a seniors centre to a church basement to somewhere. They just don’t have a home,” Farrell said. 

Solution out of court possible, councillor says

Jeff Browaty, city councillor for the North Kildonan ward, believes there is a way forward without having to go the distance in court.

“We are going to get that ironed out. We are going to get everybody to the table … and I think there is a way out of this that is going to make sense for everybody,” Browaty told reporters.

Browaty was reluctant to weigh in on the legal case itself, but did call Good Neighbours “partners in the facility,” and said at the end of the day, the group would likely face little or no costs to use Bronx Park.

Good Neighbours Active Living Centre says it is the city’s largest senior centre, with more than 1,150 members. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The City of Winnipeg has been asked for comment on the concerns raised by Good Neighbours and the status of its response to their legal action, but a spokesperson declined.

“The City of Winnipeg has no new updates to provide regarding the lawsuit,” the spokesperson said.

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