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Winnipeg increases funding to emergency shelters

Late at night, while much of Winnipeg is asleep, up to 100 young individuals gather in the West End to have meals that need to be paid for, at least in part, by the city.

Operating within the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre, the West End 24-Hour Safe Space, or WE24, managed by the Spence Neighborhood Association, offers refuge from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily. Previously funded by an annual grant of $100,000 over four years, the initiative has been a crucial lifeline for many.

Chantel Scott, a beneficiary turned program employee, expressed her gratitude, recounting how WE24 rescued her from a frigid night outdoors. “They helped me out by keeping me safe,” said Chantel, while emphasizing the profound impact of finding care and support when she felt utterly abandoned. Reflecting on her journey, Scott acknowledged WE24’s pivotal role in her life trajectory.

Michele Wikkerink, the executive director of the Spence Neighborhood Association, discussed the importance of their current setup but recognized the growing demand necessities at a larger, dedicated facility for youth aged 13 to 26. It is the same for Velma’s House, the only 24/7 safe space in the province that supports victims of domestic abuse and sexual exploitation.

A city update released Wednesday said that WE24 was now approved to receive $175,000 this year, while Velma’s House, operated by Ka Ni Kanichihk, would receive $100,000. Two other organizations offering 24/7 services – St. Boniface Street Links and N’Dinawemak – received $250,000 and $275,000, respectively.

Winnipeg’s mayor, Scott Gillingham, said that he realizes more needs to be done, but the city wanted to get help to the vulnerable as quickly as possible. In an interview, Scott said “ultimately, we want to get vulnerable people into more permanent housing with wraparound supports. We’re working with the province on that goal. But 24/7 safe spaces play a critical role in providing shelter and services on an emergency basis, which is why council pushed to increase funding for these programs in last year’s budget.”

WE24 also gives young people safe rides, referrals to housing and health services, and clothing and hygiene kits. The city update said WE24 “is a lifeline for individuals fleeing domestic and street violence, providing a wide range of culturally safe supports and essential services, particularly in under-served communities.”

Having safe spaces available for the vulnerable creates vital resources for those in need, offering not just shelter but also a sense of belonging and support in times of crisis. As demands continue to rise, there is collective acknowledgement in Winnipeg of the need for sustained investment and expansion to meet the growing challenges faced by vulnerable communities.

Learn more about the West End 24 Hour Safe Space