The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on important service gaps in our community. One of those gaps is serving women who cannot come to get food, hygiene, and other basic needs at our front door. COVID made it much more difficult for women to come to us, so we immediately decided to go to them. We quickly transformed the Centre’s van into a Street Outreach Van in April 2020. It’s been running ever since, and it’s one pandemic service we will be keeping on when things return to normal (whatever that means!). Our Street Outreach Van is one of the only ones in Winnipeg focused on women and operating seven days a week.
What Our Street Outreach Team Does
The Van goes out to support those who are unsheltered in the inner-city, including encampments and bus shelters. It is staffed with two trained outreach workers who can check in on the wellbeing of folks and help find them additional services and supports if they need them.
“Women who are living unsheltered need caring, compassion and understanding. Especially in these difficult days of disconnection and isolation. We all need to know someone cares about us,” says Lorie English, Executive Director of WCWRC.
We also connect women with our one-on-one housing supports and other services depending on their needs when they’re ready. Inside the van, you’ll find hot coffee, meals, water, hygiene kits, harm reduction supplies, bus tickets, and whatever our community needs at that moment. For instance, over the winter, the back of the van was piled high with winter coats and boots of all sizes!
Our generous funders and over 100 donations by thoughtful and caring donors like you made this service possible. In April, we raised over $50,000 to maintain this crucial service. Thank you! “With the generosity of Winnipeggers, we were able to keep a vital community support resource on the road that is saving lives,” says English.
Double Jeopardy: Women Experiencing Homelessness & COVID
The need for these on-the-ground services grows as women’s instability grows. The most recent Street Census estimated that there might be around 3,500 women experiencing homelessness in the city. This number has no doubt increased since women in our community are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
“In my over eight years at WCWRC, I’ve never seen such difficult circumstances for women in our community,” says English. “Women are in precarious situations and have fewer places to turn to because of COVID.”
Women are more likely to live in poverty, be employed in sectors with high layoffs, and since the eviction ban was lifted, many lost their homes and ended up either couch-surfing or on the street. As we wrote in our 2019 strategy to end homelessness Connecting the Circle, women often do not feel safe in emergency shelters and will choose the street or staying with a stranger instead. There is a great need for more places of safety for women and gender-diverse people throughout our city.
Meeting People Where They Are At
At WCWRC, we meet people where they are at, without judgement and using trauma-informed and harm-reduction approaches. We build trust by working with compassion from a woman-centred empowerment model. Because of your support, we have been able to offer some safety and support directly to women experiencing homelessness; by making sure, they are ok and helping them with what they need. If you want a feel for what Street Outreach is like, check out our video on our YouTube channel. And give us a wave if you see us on the street!