Homeless population in Winnipeg grew during pandemic: report

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A new report from a Winnipeg non-profit confirms homelessness is getting worse in Winnipeg.

The report done by Resource Assistance for Youth, Inc. (RaY) looked at the impact COVID-19 has had on the city's unsheltered population.

Findings showed that from April 2020 to March 2021, more people were living on the streets compared to the previous year.

RaY attributes this to fewer people couch surfing and living in long-term housing.

"What that kind of demonstrates to us is that the street infringed population is growing," said Breda Voster, RaY's information and grant director.

Voster said marginalized communities have been hit by the pandemic the most, with RaY doubling its new contacts with Indigenous women during COVID-19.

"That shows new Indigenous women are on the streets and don't have access to resources to stay off the streets or to not be on streets in the first place," Voster said.

"We really just see communities that are already vulnerable and marginalized become more marginalized, which is a big problem in today's society."

The organization also found people using substances are having a hard time acquiring them due to supply chain issues during the pandemic.

"Addiction is not a choice. People rely on these substances in large part to function. While these are illicit substances, we need to acknowledge people need them," said Voster.

RaY found that more people are switching from meth to opioids since they are more widely available.

"Those two substances are extremely different and have extremely different effects on the body," said Voster. "They aren't really familiar with how that substance affects their body which can lead to misuse or overuse or overdoses."

Voster said the report's findings highlight the need for more long-term supports.

"We need emergency services and emergency shelters. We also need a wide variety of housing options. We also need 10-year, 20-year investments into these sort of things that will help people in the long run," she said.

"A lot of what we are doing is important and needed, but it's just sort of a bandage solution."

The report collected data from RaY's Street Outreach Team to identify an increased need for supports from individuals living unsheltered on the streets.

Voster said having real-time data like this new report is key in tailoring supports to the community.

"It gives folks time on their end, the people who have control over systems and services, to read it, see that it's happening in live time and act on it really quickly," said Voster. "What we are hoping to get out of this report isn't just real-time data, but real-time action."

The researchers at RaY plan to conduct additional studies into topics like housing and encampments in the coming months.