‘This is all that we have’: Homeless man says city’s strategy to dismantle camps takes from the vulnerable

By | May 16, 2019

A Winnipeg homeless man says the city’s decision to hire a contractor to dismantle temporary homeless shelters in public places will bring more pain to vulnerable people.

Benjamin Bonham says a plan to take down the temporary camps offers no alternative to people who get uprooted, many of whom feel unsafe in traditional shelters.

“You know what? That’s not the answer, [to] come down here now and start taking away more from the needy,” said Bonham, who goes by Madd Dogg.

“This is all that we have out here, and they want to take that, too.”

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.

City spokesperson Ken Allen said occupants in camps will be given notice between 12 and 24 hours to remove their belongings before the contractor does so.

The city will take “all reasonable care” to protect the health and safety of people living in the temporary shelters, he said. Some of the bulky items may be stored for later pickup “where possible,” Allen wrote.

But Bonham says the plan sidesteps the real problems that bring people to the camps in the first place, including mental illness, addiction, poverty and more. He’s served 37 years in prison, he said.

Under the city’s plan, camps that are torn down will just be built up again, he said.

“There should be more involvement from the city in regards to curbing this. They want it stopped anyway, so why not deal with it properly?” he said. 

“There’s a lot of emptiness here, and we feel it every day. And by them tearing down our tents and kicking us out here, it makes us feel that even more.”

‘Sense of camaraderie’

The RFP was issued “due to the increasing number of 311 service requests about needles and sharps,” Allen wrote in an email to CBC News. In addition to discarding waste from temporary shelters, the hired contractor would be charged with collecting individual needles and the contents of needle disposal boxes to be installed in nine locations.

The hired contractor would work from Aug. 1, 2019, to July 31, 2020, with the option of two one-year contract extensions.

A spokesperson said the city consulted with key stakeholders and agencies including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority’s Health Outreach and Community Support team and Street Connections in creating the RFP.

The plan has already drawn criticism from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, which issued a news release Wednesday suggesting the proposal could make accessing addictions and mental health support more difficult for people experiencing homelessness.

James Favel, executive director of the Bear Clan, said Tuesday the group plans to bid on the contract. However, he also said he’s concerned about the impact of taking apart homeless shelters on the people who live there.

Bonham said the impact of removing the shelters would be devastating to the people who live in them. Many of the occupants don’t feel comfortable in traditional shelters, he said, because they could be separated from the people they trust to keep them safe.

The camps give him and others a sense of safety, he said.

“When we’re together like this, it’s like — it’s a sense of camaraderie,” he said.

“We’re all in the same situation, we’re all looking out for each other and we’re all giving to each other.”