Unsheltered in Winnipeg winter: Woman found unresponsive at bus shelter Monday sparks conversation

Winnipeg is beginning to see bone-chilling temperatures and on Monday a 27-year-old woman was found unresponsive at a bus shelter by outreach workers.

“She was an individual that the outreach team discovered curled up face down under a pile of blankets,” said Marion Willis with St. Boniface Street Links. “They checked for a pulse. There was a very faint pulse.”

The Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service told Global News she was taken to the hospital in critical condition, but neither the WFPS nor Shared Health could say what was wrong and whether she survived.

While it is not confirmed that the woman was harmed by the elements, the incident has sparked a conversation surrounding those who are unsheltered during the city’s brutal winter months.

“I would be lying if I were to say to you, this is the first time that this has happened. It’s the first time it’s happened this year,” Willis said.

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“We’ve been well acquainted with death as an outcome of people, large numbers of people, residing in neighbourhoods unsheltered.

“There are no services over here, and no infrastructure to support people over here, and again, that needs to change.”

Winnipeg saw one of its coldest days ever on Wednesday. Scott Kehler of Weatherlogics told 680 CJOB’s The Start the morning low was -33.4 C, which is a mark not seen since the 1880s.

Read more: Winnipeg wakes up to near-record cold Wednesday

During the winter months, the areas that St. Boniface Street Links serves see an influx of unsheltered people, which they aren’t equipped to handle, Willis said.

“We are always beyond stretched to the max on this side of the river during the winter.”

The city’s estimated 750 emergency shelter beds are at or near capacity, End Homelessness Winnipeg told Global News.

Main Street Project’s executive director Jamil Mahmood said he hopes Winnipeg will play a bigger role in emergency weather management.

“We’ve been asking for things like what city buildings can be warming centres and those kinds of things, and the response hasn’t been what we expect or hope,” Mahmood said.

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“We need to be more proactive in the non-winter months to make sure that, you know, things like if we would have known we were getting funding for the winter, then we would have been fully staffed by now.”

Click to play video: 'Cold weather and supporting vulnerable Winnipeggers in the city’s core'

Cold weather and supporting vulnerable Winnipeggers in the city’s core

Mahmood said the organization’s biggest fear every winter is not being able to create an adequate response for those who need it.

“That’s very sad and tragic that we’re not able to meet everybody’s needs, and so we hope we can do better in the winter.”

A temporary warming space has been set up on Saint Mary’s Road, and plans are in the works for a long-term facility offering support during extreme weather.

Additionally, Main Street Project has bumped up its outreach efforts throughout the winter months.

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“There are people that still choose to sleep outside or access other spaces like bus shelters,” said Anastasia Ziprick, director of development.

“We’ve got a second outreach vehicle on the road that is responsible for just checking on people and making sure that they are safe and alive.”

Furthermore, the sector will soon have a new fund available to them to respond to extreme weather events.

“So any time there is an extreme weather event notification from Environment Canada, we call an emergency meeting with folks from a sector, and then we determine where funds are needed to be able to respond,” Mahmood said.

“Warming spaces can be expanded with this fund, and then also things like supplies, like hand warmers, long johns, underwear, socks, stuff like that.”

with files from Global’s Rosanna Hempel

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