New proposal could see Winnipeg, community outreach assist in encampment cleanups

Encampments along the Assiniboine and Red rivers have been problematic in Winnipeg for quite some time, with issues from safety to the accumulation of garbage and other health and fire hazards at the forefront.

On Tuesday, the City’s Executive Policy Committee unanimously approved an amendment to a motion which could pave the way to establishing working partnerships with community outreach organizations such as Siloam Mission, Main Street Project, and the Downtown Community Safety Partnership in order to provide certain encampments with regular garbage removal.

Initially, if proposed as is, the motion would have resulted in Winnipeg park staff performing weekly or bi-weekly garbage collection at approximately 150 encampments around the city at an estimated cost of $4 million. The amendment comes with a much more palatable price tag of $170,000, and would allow Winnipeg’s Chief Administrative Officer to enter into sole source agreements with the groups.

Point Douglas city councillor Vivian Santos originally brought forward the recommendation, but agreed with members of the committee that the original cost was too high.

“They [City administration office] came up with the $4 million figure annually,” Santos said. “So it’s a very large number. And, I was taken by surprise.”

Santos says she gets calls on a daily basis from residents in her ward, and thinks this proposed pilot project, while not a long term solution, will have benefits in the short term.

“In the report, it actually stated if we started maintaining the garbage on a regular basis, we’re going to see a down slope towards the cost,” Santos explained. “So you may not get this happening every week. We may or may [not] need to do it every two weeks.”

Santos also believes these cleanups can also have an impact in other aspects.

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“If we’re looking at it from a land and environmental standpoint, we don’t want those debris, and large debris going into our waters, lakes and rivers.”

Siloam Mission CEO Tessa Blaikie-Whitecloud supports the move towards the hybrid approach due to the fact organizations such as Siloam Mission and Main Street Project are able to create relationships with those staying in encampments, which typically results in better outcomes for all those involved.

Owner of Saint barbershop, Scott Ramos, agrees that encampments along the river need to be cleaned up — but safety for everyone, including those who use river pathways, is a priority.

“I do understand some people are less fortunate and don’t have homes to stay in. But just as long as it’s safe for people in the neighbourhood.” Ramos explained.

The proposed pilot project is expected to go before council late next week, and while it only targets a handful of encampments along the river, city residents can still rely on 3-1-1 if they come across, or notice other encampments should be looked at by city crews.

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