Original Article: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/beer-can-homeless-encampment-1.6015608
By just trying to be good neighbours, a pop-up beer garden in Winnipeg may have helped some people experiencing homelessness find a place to live.
When they chose to set up at the Granite Curling Club — on Granite Way, just west of the Osborne Street bridge — the owners of The Beer Can knew they would have to figure out how they were going to approach the encampment behind the club, says co-owner Brad Chute.
Homeless encampments had dotted the riverbank behind the curling club last year, leading to some tensions with residents in the area. At least one appeared there again this spring.
“When we started peeling away that onion we realized how many layers there were. We realized we weren’t equipped to deal with this situation on our own,” he said.
Luckily, the Beer Can owners were friends with Kirsten Bernas, who is the director of housing at the West Central Women’s Resource Centre and was helping them set up The Beer Can.
She decided to help them get to know the people living in the camp.
The conversations started by just simply saying hello and letting the people living in the camp know what they were doing at The Beer Can, Bernas said.
Chute said they also let the camp residents use their dumpster to clean up their camp and lent them rakes, a wheelbarrow and garbage bags.
“Once we gave them the key to the dumpster … [the camp] cleaned itself. It was really that simple,” he said.
Eventually, those conversations developed into ones about whether the camp residents wanted to find housing. In almost all cases, the answer was yes, Bernas said.
She said the West Central Women’s Resource Centre was able to take advantage of some federal government funding to place the camp residents in a hotel. The resource centre was also able to hire someone to help the residents apply for provincial employment and income assistance, and get into Manitoba Housing units.
As of this week, some of the people who lived in the encampment are already in Manitoba Housing units, while others are living in hotels and waiting for units to open up, Bernas said.
None of that would have happened if The Beer Can had simply forced the camp residents to move away, she said.
“Often with new developments, people who are unsheltered simply end up being displaced, but their homelessness doesn’t go away,” she said.
“And I think The Beer Can has shown that there are different ways of doing things that can actually end people’s homelessness that benefits all of us.”
Before this experience, The Beer Can’s Chute says he had a pretty stereotypical view of homelessness, but building relationships with people in the encampment has opened his eyes.
“I learned that it doesn’t take much. You lose a job here, maybe you don’t get your paperwork coming out of it and you get evicted, and before you know it you’re homeless,” he said.
“The people who were down by the river, they wanted to have a home.… They just didn’t know how to get it. They didn’t know what resources were out there.”
Though the issue of homelessness is complex, Chute thinks that small gestures that give people a sense of dignity can add up.
“Just that little snapshot of using our garbage bin to help clean up was such an easy thing. It was so easy to just unlock it once a day,” he said.
“It doesn’t take a lot and I think we could make small differences that could add up to big differences.”