By Jim Bell, CEO
**This column first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press**
There’s an adage that says it takes a village to raise a child.
Nowadays, it often gets misinterpreted. The proverb was never meant to say that the entire village is responsible for raising that child.
It simply means that an entire community of people — the villagers — must interact with children as they grow up for those children to thrive.
When it comes to ending homelessness, the same is true.
You might not realize how many people, social service agencies, government services and healthcare providers a vulnerable person in Winnipeg has to interact in order to move forward.
When you talk to people who have successfully overcome homelessness, they’ll tell you about a complicated web of services they had to navigate — all while dealing with a serious mental health issue, addictions, trauma and more. Sometimes people feel overwhelmed and Siloam Mission steps in to help navigate when needed.
For example, when a person doesn’t have a fixed address it can be nearly impossible to get proper identification.
Without proper identification, it can be nearly impossible to get employment. Without employment, it can be nearly impossible to afford an apartment.
Without housing, a person has to apply for employment and income assistance — for which they will need proper identification.
Then there are the many processes, paperwork and policy a person has to understand in order to access crucial services — a daunting task for many of us who don’t struggle with physical, mental or cognitive disabilities.
That’s why it must take a village — social services agencies, government and the private sector — to work together in alignment and in partnership to end homelessness.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of progress made already.
All emergency shelters in Winnipeg can access important data about our clients in a shared database to make sure we’re all on the same page.
When temperatures drop we all coordinate to make sure nobody is left without a warm place for the night.
The fire and paramedic services that respond to the shelters are conscious of the unique needs our clients have, bringing an extra degree of compassion and understanding when dealing with extremely vulnerable people.
There’s no doubt that all of these efforts have saved many lives already.
Private companies that sponsor Siloam Mission contribute by donating financial resources, and also providing necessary goods and services that our community members need. Items like glasses, steel toed boots and the list goes on.
And government agencies — who realize how much money nonprofit social service agencies are saving the taxpayer and the healthcare system — are becoming more interested in ending homelessness.
But there’s so much more that needs to be done. Both in terms of collaboration, but also in terms of making systems work better for those most vulnerable.
And that’s on all of us.
It can’t just be homeless shelters. It can’t just be the government. It can’t just be the private sector investing in more affordable housing, although that would be a great start.
I know people are paying attention. If you’re one of them, we want to — and need to — hear from you.
It takes a village, and each of us is a villager.