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According to a recent survey, there are some 1,600 homeless persons in Winnipeg.  Not noted on this survey, or anywhere else for that matter, are some 5,000 who live in substandard housing facilities. These persons, other than having a roof over their heads, are in no better situation than those living on the streets. For the most part, they are the “invisible homeless”!

Enter into play Equal Housing Initiative (EHI), a Non-governmental organization based in Winnipeg. They are presently engaged with the owners of the McLaren Hotel located at 554 Main street. They have initiated a redevelopment process, which includes renovating and repurposing the hotel into a safe and affordable supportive recovery housing.

The MB Justice and Peace Committee had been looking into possible action in the area of homelessness, Given the media reports on the McLaren Hotel, members got in touch with the team leading this project to learn more. In the aftermath of this connection, key players on the team were invited to give a presentation at the Despins Residence. On Tuesday, June 6th, Rick Lees, executive director at EHI, accompanied by Sebastien De Lazzer, director of strategic initiatives, gave a rendering of the situation and the project.

Key ideas underlying the approach used by EHI to carry out this project are …

  • A focus on “beings who fall apart and not just buildings that fall apart”
  • An effort to work according to these ideals:
    • equity – basic needs should be met: are we offering fair opportunities?
    • social responsibility – housing has been recognized as a human right: are we being inclusive of all?
    • holism – all aspects of wellbeing are intertwined – financial, physical, mental, relational, as well as recognizing the value of one’s purpose; are we implementing the necessary support systems, not just looking at bricks and mortar?

The EHI team has been working for the better part of two years, laying the groundwork …

  • establishing a sound network of relationships with the tenants of the building to determine their needs, to help them cope with present challenges, and mostly to value them as respected individuals.
  • promoting partnerships with various service providers – social, medical, financial …
  • building a strong “multisector” board, persons not only offering expertise each in their area, but given their own life experience, coming with a vested personal interest.
  • contacting the governmental agencies from which funding is provided, and following up with potential players in the ongoing phase of implementation.

A brief overview of the end product was presented – in essence, it is offering the residents a simple home which will allow them to live in greater dignity and security, communal spaces to enhance their relationships, and health assessment areas to help promote and maintain greater wellness for all.

Needless to say, those in attendance learned of a dire situation, in general, not well known.

AND, all were touched by the beauty of this “Lift Program”.

For the SNJM MB Justice and Peace Committee

Yvonne Massicotte, snjm