In the southwest corner of the Kildonan Place shopping centre parking lot, a team of Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service members rush to administer Narcan to a man collapsed on the pavement.
It’s Tuesday’s second visit to the mall by WFPS personnel. It’s just past noon.
Within minutes, the man — who came close to dying, one of the first responders says later — is sitting up, and then he is on his feet.
He has never overdosed from opioids before, and it is a lesson he won’t soon forget, he tells the Free Press.
As the emergency team packs away gear and boards a waiting fire engine, the man walks over to a nearby bus shelter at the corner of Regent Avenue and Stapon Road. A cluster of people greets him there.
Garbage and clothing scraps litter the surrounding area. The concrete is splattered with bile and the stench of urine hangs heavy in the air. A man sleeps on a bench inside the shelter, slumped at the waist with his head between his legs.
The people gathered here are homeless, they say.
A report from the City of Winnipeg identifies this bus stop, and another a few blocks further east down Regent Avenue, as the source of nearly 100 calls to emergency services in 2021 alone.
"It’s a daily occurrence," says Shawn Nason, the site’s city councillor. "It’s getting out of hand, and it’s just got to stop."
Nason (Transcona), who has been searching for a way to reduce the number of emergency calls to the area for more than two years, will present a plan at a community meeting Thursday that includes dismantling the two shelters during a committee meeting on Thursday.
If the city’s public service approves the idea, it will remove the glass enclosures, benches and heating equipment, leaving only the roofs.
Nason believes taking the shelter apart might discourage people from loitering here.
"This is not a knee-jerk reaction," he says. "We need to take some action. Is this decisive? Is this change? I don’t know. All I know is my community has been very vocal that we need to do something."
“This is not a knee-jerk reaction. We need to take some action. Is this decisive? Is this change? I don’t know. All I know is my community has been very vocal that we need to do something.” — Coun. Shawn Nason
Staff from a nearby business who asked not to be identified voiced support for Nason’s deconstruction plan.
They describe their daily encounters with used needles, intoxicated and aggressive people and human waste. Calls to emergency services have become part of their daily routine, and when they leave the business at night, they fear for their safety.
Kildonan Place general manager Sandra Hagenaars agrees with that assessment, calling the conditions in the shelters unsafe and unsanitary.
"The result of this persistent occupation of the shelters has spilled out into the community, creating an untenable strain on those waiting at the transit stop, as well as on local businesses, employees and customers," she tells the Free Press in an email.
"Unfortunately, the best course of action forward to protect the safety of employees and customers of the mall as well as other members of the community is to remove the glass enclosures and seating from these transit shelters immediately."
Marion Willis, executive director of St. Boniface Street Links, plans to attend Thursday’s committee meeting and encourage the city to act on Nason’s plan.
The Street Links outreach team visits both shelters numerous times each day, offering rides to the people gathered there and help accessing income and housing support.
The people are often respectful during those visits, either attempting to clean up or moving on from the shelters, Willis says.
“The result of this persistent occupation of the shelters has spilled out into the community, creating an untenable strain on those waiting at the transit stop, as well as on local businesses, employees and customers." — Kildonan Place general manager Sandra Hagenaars
But the situation has steadily deteriorated.
At the Regent and Stapon location, calls to emergency services have more than quadrupled; in 2020, WFPS recorded only 12 calls to the shelter. In 2021, that number was 53.
Willis says dismantling the shelters is the last resort.
"If there’s a better alternative option, I can’t, for the life of me, think of what it might be," she says. "It’s just got to the point where… it’s become a very difficult situation. People are fearful."
Many shelters across the city have become hangouts where people go to sleep and use substances, she says, adding permanent housing and city intervention are the keys to resolving the problem.
"We really don’t help anybody by simply just enabling it all," she says.
"I think that the city has a role to play in this by creating bylaws and enforcing them. We’re not saying you can’t use substances; we’re just saying that’s not a good place to do it and this transit shelter is for others."
Support for Nason’s dismantling plan is not unanimous.
Main Street Project, which provides temporary shelter for many of Winnipeg’s homeless, voices opposition in an email to the Free Press.
The organization encourages Nason to review the Kíkinanaw Óma Strategy, a plan developed in collaboration with the city to support unsheltered people.
"Main Street Project would not support this motion…. There are many solutions-oriented recommendations there, including a guide for the public on… what to do if they encounter folks living unsheltered. Any formal actions that impact people living unsheltered should be taken with a human rights based approach," an organization spokesman writes.
Main Street Project also highlights the development of safe consumption sites to reduce substance use in public.
The people gathered outside the Stapon bus stop Tuesday afternoon are defiant when they learn of the plan to dismantle the shelter, calling it discriminatory.
Many of them travel to Transcona during the day because they feel unsafe downtown. If the city chooses to dismantle the shelters, they will simply bring tents, they say.