‘Sense of self-worth and well being’: How one program is helping at-risk Winnipeggers

Advocates say an announcement from the provincial government for a community safety initiative is a step in the right direction.

On Wednesday, the government announced $150,000 would be going to the Downtown Community Safety Partnership (DCSP) so the organization could establish the Clean Slate Program.

The program helps at-risk community members and they would be focused on cleaning and maintenance in downtown Winnipeg.

“We are pleased that the supports and the employment opportunities provided to each team member has contributed to their successful reintegration in the community,” said Elizabeth Pilcher, the senior ops director at DCSP, on Wednesday.

Program participants pick up garbage and needles, shovel snow and remove graffiti throughout the area.

It’s a way to provide employment opportunities for at-risk community members, who may otherwise face barriers in finding jobs.

“If this were to happen, I would have taken advantage of it for sure and wouldn’t have been on the streets as long,” said Al Wiebe, who is a homelessness advocate in Winnipeg.

Wiebe spent 28 months living on the streets and said these kinds of programs help empower people.

“The greatest casualty of homelessness is actually the loss of dignity, self-respect, and self-worth. And this actually gives people a sense of self-worth and well being.”

People can be part of the Clean Slate Program for up to a year and afterward, the DCSP will help them find long-term employment opportunities in the community.

“They’re working with the vulnerable populations, so they have to have a level of empathy and understanding and kindness and (be) able to have good interactions,” said Jason Whitford, the CEO of End Homelessness Winnipeg.

Whitford said this kind of program could be scaled up and replicated in other areas of the city to help at-risk Manitobans find jobs.

“Regardless of whether you’re exiting child welfare, living in poverty, you’re from the justice system, you’re going to face barriers to employment.”

The program is also designed to help reduce the number of repeat offenders.

“If you’re looking to reduce violent crime, man, make employment and social support something that is sustainable,” said Kelly Gorkoff, an associate professor and department chair of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg.

Gorkoff added the idea of social enterprise as a form of crime prevention isn’t new and the success rate is variable.

“A program like this is wonderful and it’s great, but does it really work long term? There’s no evidence that shows that.”

Gorkoff feels the focus should be on long-term solutions, like adequate housing and liveable wages, along with mental health and addiction support.

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