Winnipeg is now seeing visible effects of an opioid crisis, and the city’s most vulnerable population is struggling to survive without desperately needed housing supports, say local advocates.
“I like to call it the survival economy,” said Greg MacPherson, executive director of the West Broadway Community Organization.
“It’s a complicated community, but in the last 18 months we’ve seen the presence of, I guess, behaviour that’s troubling. A lot of that, I think, stems from people using substances and maybe not having the supports around them that they need to do that in a healthy way.”
Business owners in the West Broadway area reached out to media earlier this week, frustrated about a homeless camp that sprung up in the area around Portage Avenue at Maryland Street, behind several local businesses — including a McDonalds, a Tim Hortons and a Rexall pharmacy.
MacPherson said what draws Winnipeg’s homeless community to that corner is the same thing that draws many other Winnipeggers.
“It’s a lucrative place. It’s a thoroughfare that is good for business,” he said. “And I think it’s the same for these young people. They’re looking to survive, to find a way to work together, and they have community there. Those businesses … sell them low-cost food and they offer them a place to congregate and to be together in safety.”
Many are in the grips of addiction or have mental health issues and cannot find housing or support, said MacPherson, which leads to an increase in crime in the area.
“A lot of bike theft, petty crime, people are having stuff that’s saleable stolen out of their yards or stolen from their cars….