Report explores homelessness crisis in Northern Manitoba

A new Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) Manitoba report was launched Nov. 5 called “Displacement, Housing and Homelessness in Northern Manitoba Communities.”

The report was developed by Lee Anne Deegan and Marleny Bonnycastle in Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and Thompson since 2018.

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The study aims to explore the experiences of Indigenous people with housing instability and homelessness issues as well as their knowledge of their circumstances and needs to increase awareness and support to improve conditions for people in Northern Manitoba.

“It grew out of the desire to understand and increase knowledge in the region about what is happening here and to create change,” Deegan told the Winnipeg Sun Nov. 6.

“The biggest thing that came out of the study is that we need housing, and we need to ensure that there is affordable housing in our communities. I see a lot of potentials to be able to share learning and build a better understanding.”

The research suggests a regional plan formed from meaningful reciprocal relationships with Indigenous people to ensure that everyone benefits from future work and investments in social programs and housing in Northern Manitoba.

Many were rendered homeless and living in unsafe conditions after the fire in two large apartment blocks in Thompson last year. Since then, many have still not been able to recover from their housing situation

To gather information for this study, participatory methods were used including interviews, focus groups and community cafés.

Deegan met with 22 participants to gather their stories about their experiences with homelessness.

“They are just amazing people. Imagine living without a shelter and still being so humane. The people were so friendly, kind and respectful. I felt as if they were someone who could be my friend,” said Deegan.

“No one showed any sign of distress. Several people said that is was the first time in a long time that somebody just listened to their story,” she added.

Participants noted that the cause of homelessness in Northern Manitoba was due to the impacts of colonization, including limitations of services, racism, and domestic violence.

However, the participants identified that housing shortages, overcrowded housing and being subjected to unacceptable living conditions were the main contributors to moving out of their communities and into homelessness in Thompson.

“One thing that stood out to me was how much strength there is to connections with each other. Those relationships become very important and can even make it difficult for people to leave the streets,” said Deegan.

The report was funded by the Manitoba Research Alliance “Partnering for Change: Aboriginal and Inner City Poverty” partnership grant through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

According to a press release by the CCPA, the Manitoba government has been slow to respond to the needs of vulnerable citizens during the pandemic.

Two years ago, a multibillion-dollar national housing strategy by the federal government was unveiled in November, yet there has been little to no indication that the money has benefited Northern Manitoba.

Thompson has taken upon themselves to play a more proactive role to develop more affordable housing options even though these efforts have met with opposition and lack of investment from the provincial and federal governments.

The city has recently changed its “land sale” policy which will no longer subsidize market housing developments.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.

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