Original Published 15:25 May 25, 2022
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Hundreds of volunteers headed out onto the streets of Winnipeg on Wednesday, May 25, 2022 to try and get a better idea and paint a clearer picture of who really makes up the city’s homeless population.
On Wednesday morning, End Homelessness Winnipeg kicked off their 2022 Winnipeg Street Census, a one-day “point in time” census that sees trained volunteers gather information over a 24-hour period through in-person surveys and conversations with homeless and unsheltered people in Winnipeg.
Advocate for the homeless Al Wiebe, who spoke at the kickoff event for the census just before volunteers headed out onto the streets, said he hopes the census will allow people to see the homeless as their “peers,” and to get a better idea of who many of them are, and what they have lived through in their own lives.
“What the survey does is break down some of the stigmas,” Wiebe said. “We hear stories and very personal stories from people on the streets, and it brings awareness to who these people are, and how they got to be homeless, and all that lead up to it.”
Previous street census initiatives were undertaken in 2015 and 2018 by End Homelessness Winnipeg, and Wiebe said many volunteers who took part said they were given a whole new perspective on the city’s homeless, after spending time with many of them.
“We hear stories about what they expected and then what they experienced, and I would say 90% of them were so enthused about the people they met and said ‘what a great bunch of people they are.’”
Wiebe said the results from the census, will also be used to try and create and push for policies that can help to prevent homelessness, and help those who are now living on the streets.
“It brings awareness of who the homeless are, and it brings an approximate number of those who are homeless, so it gives us a base to build numbers,” he said.
End Homelessness Winnipeg president and CEO Jason Whitford said on Wednesday that the survey will gather information from Winnipeg’s homeless on areas like their gender, ethnic background and sexual orientation, as well as their current living situations, and some of their background.
Information for the census will also be gathered from local community organizations and government agencies, and Whitford said they expect the results of the 2022 census to come out sometime in October.
“The outcomes and the results of the street census will help us as an organization and as a community to bring greater awareness and education, but also to improve planning and strategies to prevent people from becoming homeless, and provide more insight into what resources can be most effective,” Whitford said.
And according to Whitford, when they gathered information in 2015 and 2018 for the street census, the topic of involvement in the Child and Family Services (CFS) system came up in many conversations between volunteers and the people they met.
“Some of the previous censuses have identified child welfare involvement as a predetermining factor in people becoming homeless,” Whitford said. “So they find the realities of how people became homeless.”
Local peer advocate Jacob Kaufman, who worked as a street census volunteer on Wednesday, said the census is important because it gives the homeless more of a say in what they want and need to better their own lives.
“This is going to give my community a voice to be heard on what they need done, instead of us telling people what they need and what they want,” Kaufman said.
“It’s very important we do this to give them a voice.”
This item reprinted with permission from Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, Manitoba