Homelessness and Poverty in Winnipeg
What does it mean to be homeless?
Homelessness is not simply being without a home; it’s being without many primary essentials. “A home is more than just four walls and a roof. It’s a whole life situation that means being welcomed into a safe, secure and dignified place to live; healthy, nurturing relationships; the opportunity for education, meaningful work for reasonable pay; and to worship, dream and play in a vibrant community.” (Ottawa Manifesto Regarding Homelessness in Canada, 2009).
If you don’t have a home you don’t have shelter, but you also likely don’t have a bed to sleep in, basic hygiene items, a readily available shower area and a place to store food and personal belongings. You have nowhere to relax and let your guard down and nowhere to entertain friends and family. You may get lonely, sad and depressed.
Nobody dreams of being homeless. As children we all dream of having a significant role in our communities and even in the world.
Individuals who are experiencing homelessness have fallen between the cracks of society and have ended up on the streets. Someone may be homeless because they have been forced to choose between food and shelter as their minimum wages won’t allow them to afford both. Those who are homeless may suffer with undiagnosed or untreated mental illness. They may fight physical or cognitive disability. They may be people who have survived physical or sexual abuse and are struggling to cope. They may also be people who have limited education or battle drug and alcohol addictions. Often it is a combination of any or even all of these factors. Others have fallen on hard times and have suddenly found themselves in difficult situations. Those who are experiencing poverty and homelessness can become desperate and vulnerable. Crisis forces people to the streets, not choice.
How many people are homeless?
An estimated 2,000 people are homeless in Winnipeg. According to the study, “Homelessness ‘chronic’ in Canada,” done in June 2007, Canada’s homeless population totals over 200,000 people and another 1.7 million Canadians struggle with “housing affordability issues” — www.cbc.ca. Basically, there is not enough affordable housing, and there are far too many people living on the streets of Canada’s largest cities.
What about social programs?
While many people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness receive social assistance, the rates can be insufficient. For one person, Manitoba Employment and Income Assistance (EIA, or “welfare”) provides $243/month for rent expenses and $195/month for basic needs, such as food and clothing (Manitoba Family Services and Housing, www.gov.mb.ca). The unfortunate result is that many people end up spending money allotted for basic needs on their rent or vice versa.
There are also people who are not receiving social assistance at all. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes it’s due to the fact that they are among the working poor and don’t qualify for EIA or because they are in the midst of applying to EIA, which can be a very lengthy process. Other times people are not receiving social assistance because they do not understand that they could be or because they simply don’t want to go to EIA as it can be shameful.
Along with a few government programs and relatively low government funding, donation-based agencies and organizations work to meet the needs of those who are homeless and attempt to help them transition into more fulfilling lifestyles. However, the demand is great.
What can be done to help?
There are many ways in which we can help those experiencing poverty and homelessness in Winnipeg. First, you can learn about the issues surrounding homelessness and poverty. Issues such as abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, social assistance, job training, housing availability and affordability, immigration, mental illness, disability and education. We’ll even get you started with our resources list found here.
At Siloam Mission, we have programs that provide meals, clothing and shelter to those who currently can’t afford them. We have a health centre where services are available to everyone without discrimination. We also offer employment and life-skills training to help individuals learn to positively contribute to society. Our programs and services are provided free of charge, and with dignity and respect. While providing for immediate needs we also offer compassionate care and friendship as we desire to see people transition to healthier and more generous lifestyles. You can be an important part of what we do at Siloam Mission! Check out the drop-down menus above to find out how you can donate and volunteer.
There are also other agencies that are dedicated to helping Winnipeg’s less fortunate. We encourage you to investigate how you can be involved.
You can give someone hope and help them realize self-worth. You can help someone move toward a brighter future. You can make change happen in Winnipeg’s inner city.