PM PHOTO | JAMES BUCHOK
Salvation Army Major Karen Hoeft and Alvin Chartrand of Winnipeg's Main Street Project spoke as advocates for the poor and the homeless.
WINNIPEG — The public is more concerned with potholes than with homelessness, says Major Karen Hoeft of Winnipeg's Salvation Army Booth Centre.
The City of Winnipeg, says Hoeft, spends a million dollars a year fixing potholes and the same amount on affordable housing.
Hoeft was a speaker at a public forum on homelessness in Winnipeg at Booth University College April 9.
Alvin Chartrand of Winnipeg's Main Street Project, a facility providing shelter, food, transitional housing and other services to the city's most vulnerable citizens, said there is a lack of leadership from government to address homelessness.
"The status quo prevails because politicians want to be re-elected," Chartrand said. "Young women with children line up to get food. What kind of society is that? People have no clue what it means to go without."
Floyd Perras of Siloam Mission, which provides meals, clothing, shelter, employment training and other services, said the problem is not just the government.
"It's all of our responsibility," he said. "The neighbour living next door to us is our responsibility, not social services.'"
Perras said the homeless face many problems, including addictions, abuse and a lack of skills. "To just try to deal with one little piece is going to fail. It has to be a holistic approach."
According to Justice Charles Husband of the Westminster Housing Society, there are "champions" for housing in every political party.
"Search them out and the political system can work. We need to continue to support what those people are doing."
Hoeft said the "NIMBY" (not in my back yard) attitude, when a neighbourhood rejects a plan for affordable or subsidized housing, must be outlawed.
"In Toronto there are policies that say nobody should have to ask permission where to live.
" That leadership is what we want to see here."
According to statistics presented at the forum, in Winnipeg there are about 135,000 people at risk of becoming homeless, 1,915 temporary homeless, 350 people living on the street and 7,600 "hidden" homeless.
The hidden homeless are those who live temporarily with relatives, friends, neighbours or strangers.
In Manitoba, about one in five adults aged 45 to 55 reported either experiencing or coming close to experiencing homelessness.
The forum reported that in Canada, to leave someone out on the street costs $48,000 a year while it costs $28,000 a year to house them. In 2007, 4.5 to six billion dollars was spent for emergency services, community organizations and non-profit help to assist homeless Canadians.
David Northcott, director of the Winnipeg Harvest food bank, said poverty is "a trap. And the risk is huge that you are not going to get out."
The majority of people in poverty "will be there for their generation."