How do you decide who gets a home?

“I really can’t express into words what it felt like to know that I had found a home and that I didn’t have to sleep outside anymore,” said a Medicine Hat man who spent five months sleeping outdoors in a lean-to he’d built from branches and a shower curtain.

Signs Of Homelessness

What changed for him? A Housing-First program launched five years ago with a goal of ending homelessness in Medicine Hat by 2015. And they’re very, very close to achieving their goal—and being the first city in Canada to end homelessness.

But how do they decide who goes into a house?

How do they figure out what supports people will need to stay housed?

We’re hosting a public learning session where you can find out how it’s done.

Coordinated Intake & Assessment Info Session
Thursday, February 26
Room 119, United Way of Winnipeg (580 Main Street)
Please RSVP—space is limited

There you’ll hear Tracy Flaherty-Willmott, a community development and homelessness expert. She was instrumental in creating and implementing the long-term plan in Medicine Hat.

Tracy now works with OrgCode, a consultancy that has worked with many communities in Canada and the United States, providing policy and planning advice, professional development and coaching, research and evaluation, all related to homelessness.

OrgCode offers training with the Service Prioritization Decision Assessment Tool (SPDAT), which prioritizes who to house first and why, while identifying the areas in a person’s life where support will be required to keep that person housed.

A common assessment tool is an essential component of the Homeless “System of Care” in place in other Canadian cities and recommended by the WPRC Task Force to End Homelessness and already under early development in Winnipeg.

With the support of the WPRC and funding from the Government of Canada, a collaboration of agencies including emergency shelters and Housing First providers are working together to design a system of coordinated intake and assessment similar to that in Medicine Hat. We invite you to be a part of it.

The “Plan to End Homelessness in Winnipeg” released.

Winnipeg’s Community Task Force to End Homelessness has released The Plan To End Homelessness in Winnipeg (PDF).

Media conference for the Plan to End Homelessness in Winnipeg announcement.

Rob Johnston, co-chair of the Community Task Force, announces The Plan to End Homelessness in Winnipeg. Photo by Doug Little.

Humbled and inspired by the personal stories of more than 80 people with lived homelessness experience (PDF), the Task Force—convened by United Way and Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council—consulted with many Winnipeggers who have a stake in ending homelessness: from a Council of Elders to the non-profit service providers who work daily to meet the needs of people on the street; from government policymakers to the private sector.

This collection of voices shaped the plan into a shared vision of what’s possible.

Shifting our thinking, as a community, from managing homelessness to ending it.

The Plan’s boldest element is the notion of a new non-profit organization to provide leadership, coordination, and centralized funding, whose sole focus is ending homelessness in Winnipeg.

The goal is to create a streamlined process that fasttracks homeless individuals into housing, per the emerging best practice of Housing First.

As a community, we need to shift our thinking from managing homelessness to ending it. Make no mistake – we are housing some of the chronically homeless people in our city – but we are doing it in emergency beds, in hospital waiting rooms, in ambulances, in jails and detention centres – and not only is this some of the most expensive housing around, this is not how people should live.

Plan to end homelessness in Winnipeg.

The Plan’s 4 key focus areas.

1. Prevent homelessness, by creating accessible pathways to permanent housing for people who are leaving hospitals, institutions and Children’s Service Authorities. Create a “one-stop” resource and centralized intake targeted to the needs of people at risk of homelessness, so they can easily access all available information, help and money.

2. Create a person-centred system of care. Most people will end their homelessness on their own or with the services currently available. But for some, mental illness, long-term substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and developmental disabilities make it difficult for them to end their homelessness with the support currently available.  They need an actual system of care created, focused specifically on ending homelessness through “Housing With Supports” programs.

3. Increase the supply and availability of housing to combat Winnipeg’s low vacancy rate, including the ultimate creation of 7500 affordable housing units.

4. Measure what we do, so we can be sure it’s making life better in Winnipeg. Conduct an annual census of homeless people, and make the data easy to share.

An action plan for a healthier, stronger Winnipeg.

The Plan also includes an action plan to guide the bold first steps of the new nonprofit.

Many voices

Throughout the work of the Task Force we have ensured that the voices of those who are or who have been homeless have been paramount. We could not conceive of this plan without also including their voices.  This is the lived experience of Fred Knoedler, someone who has been homeless in Winnipeg.

We believe we can end homelessness in Winnipeg, improve the quality of people’s lives, reduce the burden on emergency services, and address one of the roots causes of chronic poverty in our community.

We encourage you to read the plan, dream big about what we can all accomplish together, and to contact us if you’d like to get involved in making homelessness history.

Community Task Force Members

Lucille Bruce
Steve Chipman
Réal Cloutier
Cindy Coker
Joy Cramer
Dr. Jino Distasio
Sandy Hopkins
Rob Johnston
Floyd Perras
Ian Rabb
Michael Robertson
Dianne Roussin
Clive Wightman
Joe Kronstal

Elders Council

David Budd
Mae Louise Campbell
Michael Esquash
Bertha Fontaine
Jo Jo Sutherland

We can end homelessness in Winnipeg.

To have the most impact possible in our community—to maximize donations and make every volunteer hour count—we know we have to dig beneath the surface of Winnipeg’s social issues and fix the underlying causes.

It’s difficult to move a person from poverty to possibility if they don’t even have a stable home to live in.

While emergency shelters and soup kitchens can manage homelessness and keep people alive, “crisis” services are not always effective at ending homelessness for people who have been homeless for a long time, or for people who have very complex health and social problems. New approaches, like Housing First, are more effective at ending homelessness and often at lower cost.

Ending Homelessness In Winnipeg

That’s why, with the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, we helped convene the Homelessness Task Force, who are working on a long term strategy to end homelessness for good in Winnipeg.

Other Canadian cities—like Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa—have shown results when they changed their mindset from managing homelessness to ending it. These cities have developed plans that unite government, nonprofit, and private sector efforts toward that goal.

Can it work? In a word, yes.

Since 2008, Vancouver has seen a 66% reduction in street homelessness.

Since implementing their plan, Edmonton has seen a 30% reduction in overall homelessness.

It won’t be quick. It won’t be painless. But we are committed to working together to move people from poverty to possibility, and ending homelessness is a very important starting point.

Street Life: One Artist’s Celebration of Safe Housing

Winnipeg artist Kevin Anderson.A journey through the streets and abandoned lots of the Main Street neighbourhood where Ojibway artist Kevin Anderson lived an survived for almost a decade as a homeless individual yields a powerful look at homelessness in Winnipeg.

Main Street’s Edge Gallery is hosting Anderson’s homelessness awareness and education initiative Street Life, a series of drawings “carefully, without blame…capturing images of life in our city as a member in the ‘Unseen Community’.”

Work from Winnipeg artist Kevin Anderson.

Anderson’s “painfully accurate memories… express the isolation, loss and trauma homeless individuals and families face every day.” Just sixteen months ago, the artist was without a home.


Now he faces new challenges, learning to live in a home and celebrating his longest period of safe housing.

Work from Winnipeg artist Kevin Anderson.

Kevin’s experience is but a single example highlighting the issue of homelessness in Winnipeg, and is why under the leadership of United Way’s Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, a Community Task Force to End Homelessness was established earlier this year.

The Task Force is developing a 10 year plan to end homelessness in our city. While it is easier to build another shelter, stock up the food bank and add another line to the soup kitchen, other cities have shown results when they change their mindset from managing homelessness – to ending it.  These cities have developed plans that unite government, non-profit and private sector efforts toward that goal.

The Edge Gallery shares space with Red Road Lodge, and reflects the commitment of Lodge owner Richard Walls to art as a vehicle for recovery from homelessness, addiction and mental illness. All images © Kevin Anderson.

A long term strategy to end homelessness in Winnipeg

A report issued in June by the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness estimates over 200,000 people in Canada experience homelessness each year. In response, cities from Vancouver, to Edmonton, to St. John’s have developed 10-year plans to end homelessness.


Now Winnipeggers have taken up the challenge through a new initiative spearheaded by United Way. Winnipeg’s new Community Task Force to End Homelessness is a unique coalition of voices from non-profit, government and private sectors led by Rob Johnston, Regional President RBC Royal Bank, and Cindy Coker, Executive Director of SEED Winnipeg.

“We see the potential to create an environment in this city where no one has to sleep on the streets and where everyone has a place to call home,” said Johnston.

Since January the task force has been reaching out to Winnipeggers, gathering stories from people who have and are experiencing homelessness, and working with guidance from Indigenous Elders to develop our own long term plan, expected to be finalized by the end of the year. “Our vision is to hear from those most affected by homelessness and to build a plan that reflects their realities and needs from start to finish,” said Coker.

The initiative rises out of the work of the Winnipeg Poverty Reduction Council, a multi-sector partnership of community leaders committed to reducing poverty through collaboration, innovation and integrated services. It is intended to build on important work already completed by the Social Planning Council, the Institute of Urban Studies, Main Street Project, and the Rental Housing Supply Roundtable.

Task force members are Lucille Bruce, Steve Chipman, Real Cloutier, Joy Cramer, Jino Distasio, Margo Goodhand, Sandy Hopkins, Joe Kronstal, Floyd Perras, Ian Rabb, Michael Robertson, Diane Roussin and Clive Wightman.

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