Right to housing, Indigenous human rights, and a housing-focused approach are embedded in the foundation of how Winnipeg’s team works to end homelessness. This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.
Homelessness is a human rights violation. That’s why End Homelessness Winnipeg layers the UN articles that housing is a human right and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), as well as culturally appropriate responses, into its work to end homelessness.
End Homelessness Winnipeg, an Indigenous organization, is the local Community Entity for Reaching Home. They provide the city’s homeless-serving sectors with backbone support for developing and implementing shared strategies that can prevent and end homelessness, according to Kristiana Clemens, Manager, Communications & Community Relations at End Homelessness Winnipeg. They partner with dozens of organizations and agencies offering housing, housing supports, emergency shelter, outreach, drop-in, health and social services to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
“Advancing the right to housing is key to ending homelessness and to building political will and collective urgency, since homelessness is, fundamentally, a human rights violation,” Kristiana says. “UNDRIP is a priority for End Homelessness Winnipeg as an Indigenous organization working to end homelessness in a city with the largest urban Indigenous population in Canada.”
As part of this work, Winnipeg is implementing Coordinated Access, which is a way for communities to streamline the process by which people experiencing or at risk of homelessness access housing and related services within a geographic area.
Housing-focused approach and encampments
The community is working on a housing-focused approach to ending homelessness, which has been a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, keeping a focus on housing is a priority because it’s the end goal for people impacted by homelessness and housing precarity. 760 people were housed by Reaching Home-funded programs in 2020-2021.
“Making the paradigm shift, from focusing efforts and resources on costly crisis responses, to building momentum for long-term solutions like adequate housing supply, homelessness prevention and person-centred services, remains a significant challenge, especially 18 months into a co-occurring public health crisis,” Kristiana says.
In June 2020, they released Kíkinanaw Óma: A Strategy to Support Unsheltered Winnipeggers, which was created in collaboration with End Homelessness Winnipeg, City of Winnipeg, first responders, outreach workers, homeless-serving agencies, and people with lived experience of homelessness. The name, Kíkinanaw Óma, was gifted by Elder Belinda Vandenbroeck. It can be translated as “This is our Home Here” from Cree.
The strategy offers context on unsheltered homelessness and encampments in Winnipeg, as well as establishes an interim strategy to reduce unnecessary interactions with policy while increasing trained and peer outreach supports for unsheltered Winnipeggers. It makes six recommendations for supporting individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness or living in encampments.
Recently, the city formalized the Kíkinanaw Óma interim strategy as its Encampments Supports Process, committing to work towards a rights-based approach in collaboration with community partners.
This has resulted in an expansion of outreach services and greater collaboration supported by strong relationships with first responders when emergencies arise, according to Kristiana. New and expanded Safe Spaces have also emerged, and several new housing initiatives are in development to address key gaps in Winnipeg’s housing continuum that contributes to unsheltered homelessness.
“The one-year anniversary of Kíkinanaw Óma in June offered an opportunity to reflect on progress and reaffirm next steps toward ending unsheltered homelessness in Winnipeg,” she says. The community released a 1-year report (read here) and held a virtual community event (watch here).
The impacts of COVID-19
Before March 2020’s national emergency was declared, End Homelessness Winnipeg’s collaborative and engagement work happened at in-person meetings and events. As it did for everyone, COVID-19 required a shift to virtual gatherings—bringing its own learning curve and technical needs that posed barriers to some but made participation more accessible for others.
“The COVID-19 pandemic increased urgency for addressing homelessness, building broad awareness that housing is healthcare,” Kristiana says. “However, COVID-19 also increased the visibility of unsheltered homelessness in Winnipeg, as elsewhere in Canada.
“The co-occurring crises of COVID-19 and homelessness in Winnipeg have necessitated shared work on a range of emergency responses, while still striving to sustain momentum on long-term goals for ending homelessness.”
Since March 2020, more than 60 community agencies across the sector, housing and health services have worked together to develop, implement, and monitor COVID-19 responses for people experiencing homelessness.
“The plan initially included social distancing and increased capacity in emergency shelters; specialized low-barrier alternative isolation accommodations; testing near emergency shelters and through safe, accessible transportation; health, food and hygiene supplies; and enhanced street outreach,” Kristiana explains.
As the pandemic has evolved, so has the response, to include a shift in focus to housing, homelessness prevention and vaccination.
While the pandemic has taken away so much, Winnipeg has taken every opportunity possible to mitigate its harms.
“The COVID-19 response fostered new partnerships and closer collaborations among organizations and sectors,” Kristiana says. “It has also helped to ensure a level of constant communication across the sector and stabilization of support services delivered in ways that can protect the health and safety of those experiencing homelessness and the people who work with them.”
Check out their COVID-19 Resources for Winnipeg’s Homeless-Serving Sector web page, which compiles the latest and most relevant guidance for service providers in the sector.
This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.