Tag Archives: CEO Sleepout

A city without homelessness

Winnipeg can solve homelessness. Just build the housing!

Bold Ideas –
Dorothy Dobbie

A few weeks ago, the Downtown Biz once again sponsored the CEO Sleep out for the homeless. For a few short hours, Winnipeg’s decision makers – or a small percentage of them – curled up in their down- filled sleeping bags and imagined themselves roughing it in support of those who have no home.

Some of us just showed up for the party and went home to our warm beds because it was a particularly bitter night. How lucky we are. Continue reading A city without homelessness

An emotional night at the CEO Sleepout

By Bill Burfoot

On October 26th, close to 100 politicians, executives, community leaders, and media took part in the 6th annual CEO Sleepout outside the RBC Convention Centre.

The event, which was held in conjunction with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness, a 3-day conference held from October 25 – 27 which brought over 800 delegates from across the country, was about continuing conversations and to have community leaders and people with lived street experience together to find solutions in reducing homelessness in Winnipeg. Continue reading An emotional night at the CEO Sleepout

Confronting Winnipeg’s homeless problem

I have looked into the abyss of Winnipeg’s homeless and have seen the bottom. It is horrifying.

Spread across the floor of a stifling room were 70 or so people sleeping, snoring, lying quietly, on 2-inch deep mats laid side by side, end to end. You would have to tread very carefully to avoid stepping on a fellow sleeper should you have a need to get up for the bathroom in the dead of night. One or two sat up, heads down in dejection, unable to sleep or awakened by the trudging parade through their overnight home.

I cannot lose the vision, the horrifying spectacle of those folk, lying there exposed, no blankets, in their day clothes, safe for the night so they could sleep without fear, only to face the prospect of having nowhere to go the following morning, except to endlessly troll the streets or find a grassy place near the river or in some park. Imagine it was winter and minus 30. You have to keep moving, I was told, or you’ll freeze to death.

Nobody should have to live like this.

This is not good enough! We can do better.

The CEO Sleepout

I joined the crowd of Winnipeg business people at the CEO Sleepout this year thinking it might make an interesting story and because I believe that homelessness is unforgivable. After what I saw, I can only say that if we want to hold our heads up with any pride, if we want to regard ourselves as decent human beings, we have to do something more to eradicate it.

It was a fine September night. There was an air of excitement around the plaza at 201 Portage, the lights of the big screen casting a cheery glow over the faces of eager over-nighters taking selfies and tweeting their experience. There were endless speeches about the event and why people wanted to be involved – all well-meaning and sincere, all heart-felt but none of the speeches prepared us for what was to come.

The crowd was divided into three groups of people to take a variety of tours of the places where homeless people find shelter: I chose the Red Road Lodge and the Main Street Project, which included the Bell Hotel.

It was ten o’clock before we started out, walking for several blocks in a whited-t-shirted group strung out along Main Street. Our first stop was the Red Road Lodge, formerly the New Occidental Hotel. It offers transition housing to those emerging from hospital. They can continue their recovery here instead of returning to a sleep under a bridge. It is only a transitioning space, however, where efforts are made to help individuals find long term solutions such as employment and permanent housing. Studio 631, an urban art centre is part of the facility. It provides classroom, library and arts and culture programming. The tortured works of its students occupy the walls of a small gallery.

I spoke to one resident who told me that he and his brother had been taken from his family and adopted out to an American family when they were boys. He had been to college and served in the military, but something drew him back to Winnipeg where now he is one of the homeless, temporarily rescued by the project where he has been treated with respect and caring. He has been sober now for 17 months, he said. I couldn’t ask where he would go from here.

The Main Street project

We were then taken across an alley to 75 Market Street, a refurbished warehouse that has been the home to the Main Street Project since 1972. This is the only place in Winnipeg that will take in intoxicated or substance using homeless people. “We have a very low barrier here,” states Lisa Goss, the executive director. “We are not here to judge.”

In addition to the overnight emergency shelter, the Main Street Project offers medically supervised detoxification, some day care, transitional housing through their Mainstay transitional housing program and permanent housing though the Bell Hotel. The shelter, which has been around for 43 years does all this on a budget of $5.5 million a year. A program that helped some people learn very basic life skills (how to have a shower, make toast, wash their clothing) ran out of funding last March; it’s a never-ending game of find the next dollar to provide the most minimal support.

But all these things are dry facts that don’t impart the kind of urgency I felt as I saw folks struggling with life: to live it, to maintain it, to see more in it than simple terror about what the next unpredictable moment could hold: what will I eat? Where can I get warm? Where will I sleep? How do I keep safe? No wonder the next thought for many is, “Where do I get my next drink, drug, sniff – anything to transport me from this reality?”

Outside the shelter, a half dozen people in varying states of sobriety lingered, knowing that eventually a warm place to sleep could be found here. They were curious about the interlopers making good-natured comments as we trooped by. I was embarrassed. Inside, a couple of people mopped floors and did general cleaning – “members” who had been encouraged to help by Lisa and who were making a place for themselves in the system. Lisa led us through the halls to the tiny kitchen where the gas stove no longer functions without the encouragement of a lit piece of paper, and then she opened the doors and took us through the “bedroom”.

“I’m not sure we should go in there,” said a woman beside me as Lisa asked us to be quiet as many were asleep inside.
“We have to see this,” I said grimly, somehow knowing that we had to see this. As we trooped though, I was seized by sadness and grief. People asleep are so vulnerable, so open to danger. So helpless. I could see that others were shaken too. A heaviness fell on us. It was a silent group that emerged on the other side.

After that, the tiny rooms of the Bell Hotel seemed like luxury, although each was too small to “swing a cat” as my Dad would have said. They have some critical things: a real bed, a table and chair, a place to put a few belongings, a microwave and a small fridge and a bathroom to wash in. Most of all, they had a roof overhead and a door that locked. Surely, this should be the minimum standard, not the warehouse floor covered with plastic mats.

The people who work in the project are truly heroes in my eyes. To deal with this sadness every day and to do so while imparting a sense of hope and possibility to the people they are helping must be very difficult. As the Main Street Project annual Report says, though, they work with their “clients” as individuals, according them full respect and without judgement.

The Project is the only agency that lets people in regardless of whether or not they are “high” only something. They don’t lecture or coerce, but they are there when someone says ‘Enough, help me find a different path’.

“Do you think people don’t care?” asked Lisa, when I talked to her after we had returned from the tour. Her question was genuine. “I’m sure they do,” I said. “Or at least, they would if they knew.” And I truly believe that o you, my dear reads. If you could see this, you could not be unmoved. These are caring, loving. Living human beings and they shouldn’t be living like this in a land of such bounty. Think of Faron Hall, how he was willing to sacrifice his life to save that of another. Think of how ill equipped he was to live a “normal” life and how he slipped away from us when all eyes were turned on him. We don’t know why and we don’t have to know why. We just need to understand that sometimes some folks don’t manage very well and that they need our support and uncritical assistance.

We can do better. And we must.

Where do we go from here? There can be only one direction: we must put an end to this and create safe homes for these people. We can do this if we will it. It is time to stop pointing to the other guy, the government, the agencies, the politicians and saying “you should do something”. We have to do it together.

It is also time for other agencies to stop jealously hugging themselves when this issue comes up – sure there is competition for funding, but it is not about you or your pet project. This is about real people who the most fundamental supports. All agencies must band together to make this happen instead of elbowing the weakest and most vulnerable out of the way.

Why do I say this? Because each time I have mentioned my concern to a representative of one of these agencies, the response has varied form defensive to hostile. As if dealing with homelessness at this level was somehow a threat to them.

Creating opportunity in the North End

By Brenlee Coates

Neechi Commons, a community-owned restaurant, supermarket and artist market in the North End, just celebrated its second year of operation.
Receiving the Excellence in Aboriginal Business Leadership Award last year, positive response surrounds the co-operative that gives hiring priority to Aboriginal youth and area residents, while helping to foster the neighbourhood’s economy and revitalization.
The concept itself is a noble one, but a hard one to put into practice.
General Manager Frank Parkes has been fielding questions about inner-city hiring from all over the world since guiding the organization through its successful preliminary years.
The business complex, located at 865 Main St., is deliberately positioned in a community that faces tough socioeconomic problems and barriers of employment to offer them opportunities.
Since opening, some 50 jobs have been created, with most of the jobs being granted to people who live a stone’s throw away from the building.
Many of the community members face challenges with literacy and numeracy, many have addictions issues prevalent in their families, some have intellectual or physical disabilities, and some are even transitioning out of homelessness.
But every person who walks into Neechi Commons has the chance to secure employment. Continue reading Creating opportunity in the North End

Downtown Jason recognized for promoting the city’s core

Jason Syvixay with his Manitoba Communicator of the Year award.
Jason Syvixay with his Manitoba Communicator of the Year award.

Jason Syvixay is one of those effective communicators who has spun the “medium is the message” adage into a whole new meaning.
When it comes to his work for the Downtown BIZ, the man is inseparable from the message.
Known by his 1,900 Twitter followers and 900 Instagram followers as simply “Downtown Jason,” the 27-year-old earned top honours for his innovative work promoting downtown Winnipeg, being named the 2014 Manitoba Communicator of the Year (MCOY) by the local chapter of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS).
The communications specialist was touted for helping raise $400,000 since 2011 with the creation of the CEO Sleepout. Monies raised assist with the BIZ initiative, Change for the Better, which helps combat homelessness by providing people with full-time work.
The youngest recipient ever to win the award, Jason won even more admiration for his communication skills at the MCOY luncheon when his speech earned him a standing ovation.
What stood out for the crowd and the CPRS, besides his success with the BIZ, was Jason’s ability to communicate with integrity.
“Good communication always involves the community, for me,” says Jason.
“When you can start to think about how your role will benefit others, you will start to speak with integrity.”
Jason’s own love affair with downtown Winnipeg preceded his work at the BIZ, and has helped drive him to be a major player in the organization. “I believe so much in downtown Winnipeg – and Winnipeg,” says Jason. “I think there’s some amazingly great things here that should be celebrated, should be promoted.”
Jason’s true introduction to the downtown was attending the University of Winnipeg, and it was love at first sight. “I instantly fell in love with the downtown campus,” says Jason, who went on to serve as the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association president. “Back in 2004, downtown was very different. It wasn’t as revitalized as it is now, but I still fell in love with the interesting grit to it.”
From his beginnings at the BIZ in June 2011, Jason has grown the positive media hits for the BIZ from 86 to 398 in 2013. His efficiency as a public relations advocate led him to a managing director role with the BIZ in less than three years with the organization.

Jason engaged the likes of Ace Burpee, Goldie the mascot and Chrissy Troy to help with Earth Day Clean Up downtown.
Jason engaged the likes of Ace Burpee, Goldie the mascot and Chrissy Troy to help with Earth Day Clean Up downtown.

And it’s not just his social media use that has become intertwined with his work at the BIZ. His social life is replete with downtown promotion as well. But, he doesn’t mind.
“Essentially I feel as though I’ve kind of branded myself too as that young person downtown that can affect change, that can bring ideas to the table, and I’m OK with that… it makes you more effective in your role,” says Jason. “As long as it, again, always goes back to the cause.”
He is constantly stopped at parties or out at a coffee shop to be the sounding board for a new idea to attract people downtown or to improve on a BIZ event.
“When I go to the events and I hear people’s ideas, I just think it’s really flattering that people have invested their confidence in me,” says Jason. “My Facebook message box is always so full of new ideas.”
He finds his liaisons with other young people are especially encouraging as their energy brightens the future of downtown.
“People are choosing their cities and where they want to stay… before they choose their job,” says Jason. “The ones that’re actively choosing to stay in Winnipeg are the ones that are wanting to build roots, wanting to make a difference, wanting to get involved in the community.
“It’s really younger people that are going to start owning their downtown.”
Jason tries to reach out to younger people downtown on a personal level – even if he doesn’t know them personally, yet.
“It’s amazing to see other young people work in our downtown. I’m always trying to foster relationships with them.
“Even when I don’t know them, I’ll meet people on Twitter and they look younger or they seem young and I’ll send them a quick message saying, ‘Hey, we should go out for coffee, go for lunch.’ Let’s build up a really good network of young people that can start creating momentum.”
Jason feels fortunate to work alongside executive director, Stefano Grande – someone who believes greatly in young people.
“I think that’s why he’s really entrusted a lot of faith and confidence in me. He sees that younger people are really tuned in to the creative forces in our city,” says Jason.
“I don’t look at people’s ages, I just look at what they’re able to create,” explains Grande.
“He’s (Jason’s) one of those social butterfly people; he’s able to genuinely create relationships because he likes people.
“It’s very contagious, and that’s how you move from 0 to 100 very, very quickly in this line of work.”
Though it’s not unusual for Jason to pull a 12- or 13-hour day at the BIZ, he weaves the perks of working downtown into his day so he doesn’t suffer through the long hours.
Jason stops to thank “Kendra” for topping up our coffees at Rudy’s Eat & Drink, and reflects on seeing the staff evolve since its opening in early 2012.
The hosts have become the servers and bartenders – or management, at the establishment – which is not an unusual climb to make quickly in the hospitality industry, but could only be done by a force in the business community.
“I still face a lot of barriers in the business community because I am younger,” says Jason.
“I guess my tip to a lot of young people is just be persistent and you never know what can happen.
“Sometimes it’s timing and I guess I am a firm believer of fate too.”