The city may come to the rescue of street-involved women who've had no safe place to shelter from the cold for months.
On Wednesday, council’s protection and community services committee directed city staff to find space in a city-owned community centre or other large facility, around the Dufferin area. The site would host drop-in services for Sage House for the remainder of the pandemic.
In-person services have been greatly missed by Sage House during COVID-19, despite the fact its staff have continued to provide food, harm-reduction kits, hygiene supplies and other basic products, said Rebecca Blaikie, director of community services for Mount Carmel Clinic, which runs Sage House.
"Often, (those we serve) are women working in survival sex (who) are precariously housed or homeless. Since the start of the pandemic… we haven’t been able to offer drop-in services, which is really important for relationship-building and community-building," said Blaikie. "It’s also to offer a safe space to go for women to be warm."
Sage House was forced to switch to outreach and pickup services only in March 2020 because its space is too small to accommodate social distancing. The organization had to pause several drop-in services once COVID-19 began spreading throughout Manitoba.
The organization’s Dufferin area space includes one room of about 10 feet by 20 feet and another of about 10 feet by 12 feet, which allows few options for social distancing, Blaikie said.
If council approves the proposal, Sage House could resume offering hot meals (instead of takeout meals and hampers), traditional ceremonies and counselling at a city-owned site. That would ideally occur five afternoons per week, though exact hours have not been worked out, said Blaikie.
The organization would also resume in-person efforts to connect clients with housing, food and employment income assistance, she said.
"We’ve remained an open door but that’s basically a door we hand things out through and we haven’t been able to have women come inside," said Blaikie. "Particularly, for women identified as street-involved people, safe spaces are few and far between. The effects that isolation has on people’s mental health is really something we’ve seen (getting worse) throughout this pandemic."
Coun. Sherri Rollins, head of the committee, raised the call to find a city-owned space for the group, which she hopes will be found within the next month.
"We’re still under the pandemic. We need to really think about what is going to be needed in our facilities that have life safety implications," said Rollins.
The councillor noted the city has opened some city-owned community centres to provide food and other social services, which she expects could serve this program at little or no extra cost.
Meanwhile, the city will study all funding and partnership options to create a supervised consumption site, thanks to a motion passed at the committee on Wednesday. That report is expected back for council consideration in about four months.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.