It was Winnipeg’s first-ever one-stop-shop event to help connect the city’s homeless population to essential services most of us take for granted, such as proper identification and personal care products. With service providers, volunteers and attendees working together, this event moved one step forward to end homelessness in the city.
Organized by End Homelessness Winnipeg in partnership with the Manitoba Financial Empowerment Network and other homelessness serving organizations, more than 500 people attended the Gizhe Waa Ti-Sii-Win Service Delivery Expo — the name meaning ‘working with love, kindness and generosity for others’ in Ojibway.
Held on May 26, 2018 at the Neeginan Centre on Higgins Avenue, the event connected participants, including those at risk of being without a home to call their own, with 30 service providers offering everything from help obtaining the most basic identification documents to dealing with physical health issues.
Outpour of support and more need than anticipated
End Homelessness Winnipeg CEO Lucille Bruce said organizers had expected about 300 attendees at the inaugural event. Far exceeding the estimate, the event proved how important such outreach is for the community.
We know that many folks who are homeless or vulnerable to becoming homeless have difficulty accessing services and navigating systems. It’s really important for us to bring those services together in a one-stop shop and allow them to come as guests — and pick and choose whatever it is they need,” Bruce said. “There’s a real need out there for this population.”
Service providers at the event included Manitoba Housing, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, SEED Winnipeg, Main Street Project, The Salvation Army, Canada Revenue Agency, Service Canada and various City of Winnipeg departments.
Also on hand were Mary Kay Cosmetics who offered free makeovers, the Love Is All We Need Foundation providing free haircuts, plus local photographers offering complimentary portrait sessions — helping make the day even more memorable. Attendees were also given self-care gift packages that included personal hygiene products and socks.
Event organizers ensured that attendees wanting a little extra assistance would have a volunteer guide help them find specific services.
Access to services and financial services
Assiniboine Credit Union was also there to help, both as an event sponsor and to assist attendees to set up credit union accounts that would give them access to financial services.
Kelly Guerra, ACU’s West Broadway Branch Manager, was on hand with several other ACU employees to help interested attendees become members.
It’s really about providing financial access to people who have difficulty getting it,” Guerra said. “We’ve done a lot of referrals over to our partner at SEED to help individuals who don’t have the proper identification to become members of ACU.”
SEED Winnipeg, an ACU member organization, helped participants acquire one piece of government-issued ID, as well as a Community Sponsorship Referral Letter that becomes a second required piece of identification to join ACU. With the right ID, additional doors can be opened — including access to these financial services, which can mean a lot to attendees and others in similar situations. Even getting a debit card can be a massive step for someone living on a shoestring budget.
“We’ve been providing banking information to people’s social workers so they can get direct deposit for their government funds,” she said. “Otherwise, they may have to go to cheque-cashing businesses where they have to pay a lot of fees when they’re already in a vulnerable position. They really feel the impact of those fees, as the fee to cash a cheque might equal a meal for them and their children.”
Throughout the expo, ACU opened 20 memberships for attendees, which was an important step forward. As Guerra stated, “People have really expressed relief they’ve been able to do this.”
Volunteers making a difference
Event organizers were also taken aback by the number of organizations and volunteers who stepped up to take part in the expo.
The response from health and social service providers as well as homelessness agencies has been tremendous,” Bruce said. “We had over 100 volunteers and 30 service-delivery booths with organizations providing essential and dignity-enhancing services.”
“To me, that shows that collectively as a community, we want to find solutions and we want to work together to get results. End Homelessness Winnipeg wants to shift the work from managing homelessness to ending it. We can only do that if we work collaboratively and collectively.”
Planning for annual event
Bruce said her organization’s steering committee, in partnership with the Manitoba Financial Empowerment Network as well as social and health service agencies, is already in discussions about next year’s event.
We’re hoping to double the number of people we reach,” Bruce said. “We’d like to see it annually, for sure, and there’s been discussion for the need to have it semi-annually. We’ll certainly be looking at all the options in the near future.”
Expo attendee Colin Reed said the need is there for more frequent outreach events.
“I’d like to see events like this happen more often — maybe even seasonally,” said Reed, who currently stays at Siloam Mission and is working to find long-term housing. The Gizhe Waa Ti-Sii-Win Service Delivery Expo made a difference for Reed and fellow attendees, providing better access to services and a helpful toolkit to continue moving forward in the battle against homelessness.
The event’s sponsors were Assiniboine Credit Union, The Winnipeg Foundation, The North West Company, RBC, PCL Construction, Canad Inns, Manitoba’s Credit Unions, Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP, Qualico, The C.P. Loewen Family Foundation, Manitoba Federation of Labour, United Food and Commercial Workers #832, and The Asper Foundation.
End Homelessness Winnipeg’s funders include the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the City of Winnipeg, United Way and Manitoba Housing.
For more information, visit endhomelessnesswinnipeg.ca.