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The Cost of Broken Bus Shelters

Bus shelters across the city are being vandalized on a nearly daily basis, costing the city almost a million dollars over the last three years.

According to data provided by Winnipeg Transit, of their 880 shelters across the city, 267 had their glass walls shattered in 2021. Three hundred sixty-one shelters had glass smashed in 2022, and 294 have been smashed in 2023 as of November 3. Approximately a third of the bus shelters in Winnipeg are recurrently damaged. Repairing vandalized bus shelters has cost Winnipeg Transit a hefty sum in the last three years. Since 2021, approximately $762,000 has been spent replacing glass at bus shelters across the city. So far, in 2023, $247,000 has been spent fixing bus shelters. 

Many shelters were vandalized multiple times. When glass is replaced at some stops, it will be smashed again within a matter of days. With the continual vandalism, not all the glass walls are able to be replaced by Winnipeg Transit. At the end of 2021, 132 shelters had no glass walls remaining, while 143 were in the same state at the end of 2022. As of November 3, 115 are missing their glass exterior. The union representing the workers responsible for cleaning up after the vandals and replacing the shattered windows said the number of bus shelters being destroyed has only increased since the city decided to make bus shelters fully glass.  

In March, the city of Winnipeg had to fully pause the replacement of shattered bus shelter windows as a consequence of a tempered glass shortage. The backlog to repair bus shelters only grew larger as the wait for tempered glass carried on. A city representative said the city was two years behind on fixing bus shelters in Winnipeg, and the glass shortage would only increase the time it would take for the repairs to take place. 

The operating budget of Winnipeg Transit is slim, and an extra quarter million dollars per year dedicated to replacing shattered windows only increases the pressure felt by Transit to offer Winnipeggers consistent service. 

Repairs for the broken windows happen as fast as possible. However, the rate at which the windows are smashed is difficult to keep up with. In many instances, a window might be replaced only to be broken again within less than a week. It’s not an uncommon site to find a bus shelter with all the windows smashed. While some of this damage is caused by car accidents or accidental damage caused by snowplows, a vast majority of it is vandalism. 

Winnipeg Transit is currently in the process of beginning a trial project testing the affordability and usefulness of shatterproof glass as well as other bus shelter alternatives. Shatterproof glass ranges in a cost increase of two to four times a regular glass pane typically used in Transit shelters. While this might be an effective resolution, it is currently still being determined how these additional costs will be covered. 

One hundred seventy bus shelters in the city are heated, many of which unhoused individuals use for shelter. People experiencing homelessness often use these heated bus shelters, and even those which are not heated, to survive the frigid Winnipeg winters. Many make the assumption that these are the people vandalizing the shelters, but this is often an inaccurate assumption. While it is sometimes true, in many instances, spree vandals will take to destroying multiple shelters in a night.  

While it is common in Winnipeg for people experiencing homelessness to take refuge in bus shelters, it is important to note that the number of people setting up in Winnipeg bus shelters increased rapidly after the pandemic. The city saw 2,188 reports of people living in bus shelters in 2019. This increased to 3,852 in 2021 and increased again to 4,761 in 2021. This may be in part due to capacity restrictions many homeless shelters were forced to abide by at the time.

Some Winnipeggers feel the city should fully do away with traditional bus shelters as they have become unsafe. Advocates for unhoused people argue this does not resolve the real root of the problem, which is that these people have nowhere else to sleep. Last December, the city council dismissed a motion to dismantle specific bus shelters around the city, which frequently have many people living in them. Early in 2022, a new motion was proposed to explore greater funding for low-barrier transitional housing. This style of housing is meant to overcome systemic barriers individuals encounter when trying to find a place to live. Such institutions in Winnipeg include the Main Street Project at 637 Main, the Salvation Army Centre of Hope at 180 Henry, and the Siloam Mission at 300 Princess.

Many bus shelters in Winnipeg are not used by transit riders as there are frequently blankets across the benches and ground where people sleep. Walls are often covered with cardboard for the sake of any bit of privacy for those within. Many shelters around the city are continually littered with empty food containers, discarded clothing, and shopping carts filled with various items. The greatest danger for members of the public is the discarded syringes which can be commonly found. 

With winter approaching, the weather has been forgivably warm. This cannot be expected to last as December comes. The coldest temperature in Winnipeg this year was -33C, which occurred on February 22. The lowest high temperature for a day was January 29, which got as warm as -23C. There was a stretch of one week between January and February, through which the lowest temperatures were between -28C and -32C.  

As anyone who has spent a winter in Winnipeg knows, this is typical and will likely come again this year. While homelessness is harmful in any place, the treacherous cold of Winnipeg creates a greater health and safety risk for those who need shelter.

Among the promises made by Premier Wab Kinew in the campaign, he swore to end chronic homelessness. Kinew has referred to a model used in Houston to house people experiencing homelessness. 

In 2011, Houston created a program wherein local outreach programs went into homeless encampments and offered housing to individuals through available housing owned by the city. Twenty-five thousand people were moved off the streets, and 75 per cent of those given a home to live in stayed in their newfound home through the first year. Overall, the homeless population of Houston was reduced by 63 per cent. Kinew hopes to follow this model by repairing and increasing available housing. Investments will also include additional funding for addiction services and mental health support.  

Mayor Scott Gillingham has voiced similar concerns about addressing homelessness in Winnipeg. One of Gillingham’s first commitments was to bring together agencies and municipal and provincial government officials to create a coordinated plan to handle homelessness productively. 

After being mayor of Winnipeg for over a year, Gillingham sees a promising future for such a project with Wab Kinew as premier. 

“I think we have this window of opportunity where there seems to be an alignment that’s coming together,” Gillingham recently said. “Once we’re able to do that, then we’ll really be able to make a significant impact on addressing the needs homeless people have.” 

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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