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The Benefit of Transitional Housing in Manitoba

Photo provided by the Main Street Project

Since 1972, the Main Street Project has helped Winnipeggers experiencing homelessness and long-term mental health and addiction issues. Their short and long-term transitional housing programs have improved the track record of chronically homeless people transitioning from the streets to functional, healthy lives.  

“Our work is a mix of emergency services but also transitional services,” MSP Executive Director Jamil Mahmood told me. “We prefer to not be as emergency service focused. Emergency services don’t provide good long-term solutions for people experiencing homelessness, but… we’ve got to keep people safe.” 

According to the MSP website, emergency services include creating access to food, showers, harm reduction supplies, access to case workers, and overnight shelter free of charge for people experiencing homelessness. 

In 2022, 1,256 people in Winnipeg experienced homelessness. Two hundred thirty-seven people stayed in transitional housing, while 123 people surveyed experienced unsheltered homelessness. Nearly 63 per cent of those experiencing homelessness in 2022 were men. 

A key component to beating homelessness in Winnipeg is affordable housing and increased transition housing. 

“Until we start actually building more housing and making more transitional housing available, we’re not going to see any change,” Mahmood explained. 

“It comes down to whether or not money being spent on housing is going to a for-profit company or if it’s going to a not-for-profit that will help people.” 

What leads individuals to experience homelessness is often a combination of factors. Beyond affordable housing, individuals experiencing homeless typically have extensive needs insofar as mental health treatment and help with substance use disorders. Many people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg have experienced intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools. This point is referred to often on the MSP and Manitoba government websites. In 2022, 68 per cent of people experiencing homelessness in Winnipeg identified as Indigenous. 

“Given the context of Canada and the context of residential schools and the effects of colonization, a lot of what we see in folks is extreme intergenerational trauma…. Most folks present with trauma or mental health challenges.”  

Poverty is another substantial challenge.  

“For us identifying where people are at is the first step, and then we assess how we can support pathways to healing and care. How do you deal with trauma? How do you deal with intergenerational trauma ? These are things that we want to have a big impact on.”  

The Housing First Model is the most widely agreed upon method of reducing homelessness. The idea of the model is to move a person experiencing homelessness into a permanent housing unit where they will be able to access treatment. The basic principle of the housing first model is that people are better able to take control of their lives if they are first given a place to live. From this point, medical and mental health treatment can take place, and the individuals will have a greater chance of success at stabilizing their lives.  

“It’s good to put people in a situation where they have control over their own lives,” Mahmood said. 

The house an individual is placed in must fit their specific needs. “Whether it’s sober housing or harm reduction housing, or mental health supports built-in,” Jamil Mahmood said. The site must be able to help with individual needs. 

“There’s not one solution. It has to be a broad approach.” 

The housing first strategy has proven to be successful across the Western world. Most people experiencing homelessness will have underlying issues, none of which can be properly addressed while the individual has no home. Resolving these underlying issues is the key to helping individuals care for themselves and be capable of eventually affording and maintaining a home.  

It is important to know this is not a solution. Rather it is the first step in a large process to aid individuals experiencing homelessness.  

Efforts by the Province 

In February 2023, the Manitoba government announced $58 million would be used to create 700 social housing spaces this year. A strategy called A Place for Everyone is being implemented to end homelessness rather than manage the symptoms of homelessness. Total funds given to A Place for Everyone totals over $126 million from the government. The strategy was developed after the government of Manitoba met with hundreds of people working with people experiencing homelessness and people with lived experience of homelessness, among others. 

According to the Province of Manitoba, the guiding principles of A Place for Everyone include:

  • Aiming to end homelessness.
  • Emphasizing reconciliation and indigenous-led programs.
  • Responding to repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Listed initiatives for 2023-24 include funding shelters to operate 24/7, developing 700 new social housing units with support, improving transition planning for clients of provincial programs, creating mentorship hubs for youth leaving care and many more. 

Funding for MSP 

“We were able to turn a lot of the money that came in as a result of the pandemic into sustained funding. We were very underfunded before the pandemic.” 

According to Mahmood, the funding granted per bed since 1997 was $13.50, while the cost per bed for a shelter was $43 per. As of October 2022, the funded rate has increased to $32 a bed. Additional funding in the near future looks promising. 

“Our funding is more based on core operations. Healing work we’re not really funded to do. That’s the next step. It’s up to us to either get that funding to do it or create partnerships with groups that do a really good job of that kind of stuff. “ 

In January 2022, the federal and provincial governments funded an expansion of 50 spaces for MSP worth $1.5 million. 

“Adequate overnight options for people experiencing homelessness are essential, especially in the colder winter months,” said Families Minister Rochelle Squires. “Although more work is needed to support Manitoba’s homeless population, Main Street Project’s success in expanding its shelter will help more people find a safe place to stay and to receive support.” 

The new project -constructed in what was formally Mitchell Fabrics at 637 Main Street- increased the cot count to 120 overnight beds, a vast increase from the 70 mats at their former location. It is key to recognize that the creation of more shelter beds will not solve the crisis of homelessness in Winnipeg. It is a temporary solution. 

In March 2023, the federal government invested over $10.5 million in Winnipeg’s Main Street Project to upgrade its Martha Street facility. The plan is to expand space to help individuals experiencing withdrawals and improve energy efficiency within the building.  

“This project isn’t only about improving the services that we’re able to offer the community, but it’s also about improving the neighbourhood, which has not seen investments in many years,” Mahmood said at a press conference. 

When asked what the public can do to help an organization like MSP, Mahmood said, “Awareness is number one.” 

Being aware of what elected officials plan to do regarding homelessness and whether or not their methods are effective. It is not enough to supply more shelter beds for people experiencing homelessness. The long-term solution involves continued funding for transitional housing, which requires education on legitimate solutions and cooperation at every level of government.  

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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