Extreme winter conditions, addictions and homelessness increase pressure on frontline resources: WFPS – Winnipeg | PKBNEWS
Steven Antle slips and makes his way over rough terrain at a riverside homeless encampment, his boots creaking in the snow.
“Hello sir. How are you?” he shouts. It’s so cold that Antle’s breath hangs in the air.
The site is largely empty, apart from two men living there, their tents exposed to the freezing January winds that pour down the Red River.
Antle has arrived to connect them with help and secure their camp.
“No one should be living outside of Manitoba during this time,” Antle told PKBNEWS earlier today.
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But many are, and the number of people enduring Winnipeg’s freezing winter in camps is growing, so much so that the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) created its full-time outreach position a few years ago. months, he said.
Extreme weather conditions also put pressure on frontline resources. WFPS recently gave PKBNEWS insight into the challenges faced by those living in settlements.
“A lot of times they tell me about, you know, really intimate, personal things that happened to them in their lives, and to be honest with you, if those things happened to me, I’d probably be living, you know, in a camp as well” said Antle, who serves as community liaison with WFPS.
“It devastates some of the wounds that people carry.”
Antle approaches the first tent and introduces himself to a man who has emerged with his hands under his sleeves.
“Has anyone come out to chat with you?” Antle asks. He learns that St. Boniface Street Links is in contact about housing.
Antle travels from site to site giving advice and listening. Until people can find addiction help, housing and income support, Antle is traveling with life-saving tools, including a carbon monoxide detector and naloxone kits.
“I was able to convince people and get them to safety, I used my carbon monoxide detector and got a reading of 183ppm, which is very, very devastating,” Antle recalled of a incident.
SAFE Work Manitoba advises employers that average concentrations should not exceed 25 ppm over an eight-hour period.
Some of the ways people are trying to stay warm are breaking city encampment fire safety rules, including using propane heaters or wood fires inside tents, Antle said.
“It’s really, really dangerous, but it’s something they almost have to do to stay, to stay alive, isn’t it?” It’s the difference between, you know, dying in a fire or freezing to death,” Antle said.
Antle approaches the second tent, where he learns that the person there narrowly survived a tarp fire the day before. The man tells Antle that he has an upcoming Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) appointment, which Antle says he will try to reschedule sooner.
Burnt trees in a Point Douglas park near the Louise Bridge are part of what remains of an old encampment site. It had to be dismantled before Christmas due to ongoing fire safety issues, including a propane tank explosion that left a crater in the ground, Antle said.
WFPS Deputy Chief Scott Wilkinson said encampments are increasingly demanding resources from agencies like WFPS.
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In 2020, emergency personnel attended 113 camp fires and in 2021 they responded to 181, a city spokesperson told PKBNEWS. Figures for 2022 were not available on Monday.
“We need housing, a Housing First strategy that involves comprehensive addiction and mental health supports. That’s what’s going to get people off the streets in a better place and relieve some of those pressures,” Wilkinson said.
Winnipeg Police Service Sgt. Todd Martens told PKBNEWS that many people staying in bus shelters and encampments tell him they don’t want their communities and groups scattered.
“We have to accept that and then we have to change our model so we can make it work for everyone,” Martens said.
For Antle, additional housing with supports can’t come soon enough.
“It can be a long process because sometimes, you know, people want to go that route and they fall.”
In the meantime, Antle said he hopes lending an ear and a helping hand will help save lives.
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