In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the support from the community, Main Street Project quickly expanded operations to protect the most vulnerable and homeless population of Winnipeg through the crisis. Because of this support, we were able to quickly accomplish amazing things. The crisis is far from over, but today I am writing to report on the positive impact we have had so far.

We watched what occurred in the homelessness sector in other cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Boston – continued crowding, COVID-19 outbreaks and deaths. Together with the community’s support our early interventions and overall response prevented these tragic outcomes from happening in Winnipeg.

With the opening of 190 Disraeli Freeway (a 76,000 square foot building generously donated for use during the Pandemic by a Winnipeg family) we were able to proactively expand physically distancing sleep space for up to 200 people experiencing homelessness. As a result, we have not had to turn anyone away. When operating out of the over-crowded 2,000 square foot Martha Street facility, redirects due to capacity issues were common (100-150 per month). Since expansion into new space, we have zero capacity related redirects. 

Women are still the largest subgroup of the hidden homeless. In the space at 75 Martha, 15 mats were allocated for female clients. With the expansion to 190 Disraeli Freeway, Main Street Project has 50 new cots for women on a floor separate from men.

We are also using the new space for 24/7 drop-in. Drop-in space is critical, as all the usual places people find respite from or to use washrooms have shut down to the public (such as malls, libraries, Winnipeg Square, churches etc.). When winter weather was a risk, vulnerable people found themselves forced into places like bus shacks and encampments to shelter during the day. This facility now provides safe space during extreme hot weather. The daytime drop-in sees, on average, 100 additional people each day, including community members who are living in encampments or sleeping rough. These individuals come in to use the new showers and bathrooms we built, to access food and connect with a social worker. In one month alone, the new shelter has seen 75 new individuals.

Further to our efforts, Main Street Project opened up a 39-unit isolation space for individuals experiencing homelessness. The COVID-19 isolation space that Main Street Project created has quarantined almost 200 symptomatic individuals experiencing absolute homelessness since opening in April. Many individuals living with a substance use disorder have chosen to transition from isolation to addiction treatment or stable housing.

Throughout the Pandemic, Main Street Project continued to respond to the crisis in mental health and addiction exacerbated by COVID-19. Our Van Patrol and Peer Outreach team are on the road daily, meeting and supporting people where they are at.  During an average night, Van Patrol serves approximately 100+ people, providing information and resources related to COVID-19, handing out food and drinks, harm reduction supplies, water, clothing and blankets. Main Street Project is the only Van Patrol program operating 365 days a year offering supports and referrals.

Finally, Phase 1 of the Mitchell Fabrics renovation will be complete July 1. This fast-tracked COVID-19 emergency renovation will add additional emergency shelter beds and safe space to ensure no one is left behind and safety, housing, and recovery are within everybody’s reach.  

Despite these challenging times, with your help, we now see a light at the end of the tunnel. Five years into a ten-year plan to end homelessness in Winnipeg, the support and actions that occurred in the span of six weeks rapidly put us in a position where we could see ourselves operating at a level that we have been tirelessly advocating for. This Pandemic is not over and we are still counting on you. Funding is needed to maintain the hours for Van Patrol and to balance increasing demands related to COVID-19/public health, addiction and mental health.

It is critical that we continue to protect the health and safety of our front-line staff and community members. Please consider making a tax-deductible financial donation to help us continue with this life-saving work.

I appreciate your support. Stay safe and healthy!

Rick Lees

Executive Director
Main Street Project 

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