Advocate welcomes new affordable housing project, more needed

By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Sun

An advocate for the homeless and impoverished said announcements of new low-income housing in Winnipeg will always be a good thing because of how serious and desperate the current homelessness issue has become.

Earlier this week, the province announced they will donate land and property, and provide millions in funding to see the Centre Village complex at 575 Balmoral St., redeveloped into 30 low-income housing units.

The distinctive-looking complex near Winnipeg’s Central Park had been low-income housing but was shut down in 2021 and has been vacant since.

The building and land go to the Winnipeg Housing Rehabilitation Corporation (WHRC) a local not-for-profit that works to provide affordable housing opportunities in Winnipeg.

The province will also provide up to $2.2 million for redevelopment and annual funding of $577,000 to “ensure all units can be rented on a rent-geared-to-income basis, and that wraparound supports can be provided by project partners.”

The project will emphasize affordable housing for families with young children and to help youth from becoming homeless.

“With concerted efforts, collaborative support and commitment from all levels of government, this project will provide a home and hope for one of our most vulnerable populations, youth at risk of homelessness,” WHRC executive director James Heinrichs said in a release.

Al Wiebe, who previously spent months of his own life living on the streets after losing a job and dealing with mental health issues, and is now a vocal advocate for the homeless, said he was happy to hear the announcement because the city needs low-income housing units now more than ever.

“It’s imperative that there is a lot more low-income housing in Winnipeg. For every 20 people who need low-income housing or housing geared towards income, there are only three available,” Wiebe said. “Most other cities have a much lower ratio.”

Winnipeg is home to nearly 750,000 people and according to statistics released by the University of Winnipeg, it is estimated there are as many as 135,000 people at risk of becoming homeless, 7,600 “hidden’ homeless” whose status as homeless is not visible on official statistics, 1,915 short-term or crisis sheltered people, and 350 living on the streets.

Wiebe added issues with homelessness in Winnipeg ultimately lead to several other serious issues that affect not only the homeless and the poor.

“It creates health care issues, crime and child poverty,” Wiebe said.

WHRC has also announced for the project they will partner with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the First Nations Family Advocate Office, and the Spence Neighbourhood Association, and those partnerships will be “instrumental in providing on-site support services and community care crucial to fulfil the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of our youth, and prevent the recurrence of homelessness.”

Wiebe said with the number of Indigenous people who are homeless and living in poverty in Winnipeg, Indigenous-led organizations should be involved in projects like the one on Balmoral Street.

He added on future low-income housing projects he would also like to see partnerships formed with groups representing new Canadians, as he said Indigenous people and newcomers make up a large chunk of those needing affordable housing in Winnipeg.

The province said when they released their 2024 budget in April they would invest in projects and initiatives to combat homelessness, as they announced a $30-million investment to build, renovate and acquire new social housing units in partnership with non-profit community housing providers.

Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.