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Social services are coping with a new influx of homeless people to the city after shuttered camps in Winnipeg drove people to Brandon over the summer.
The Brandon Neighbourhood Renewal Corporation saw a concerning rise of new people registered in its homelessness database over the summer months, said executive director Carly Gasparini.
"What we’re seeing is individuals who aren’t already in our system popping up at a much more frequent rate than we ever have," she said.
In June, the City of Winnipeg cleared out a homeless encampment near the city’s Disraeli Bridge. After the camp was cleared, Gasparini said many people came to Brandon, either in search of services or hopeful of a different environment.
"Once the encampment was closed in Winnipeg earlier this summer, almost immediately we saw this increase in people we didn’t know, we didn’t have a history on, we didn’t have a relationship with — clearly people were migrating here," Gasparini said.
The Homeless Individual and Family Information System tracks homeless people around the country, so they develop a history that agencies can access when helping them. Housing First co-ordinator Kris Olsen said approximately 67 new people were registered over the summer months, but in the spring Gasparini estimates there were a total of 187 people in the system.
While transient people from northern Manitoba or First Nations often come to Brandon for services, Gasparini said the new people are largely from Winnipeg.
The newcomers among Brandon’s homeless population also changed the culture in the community and Gasparini said she believes there is now more violence.
"These are individuals who are from a bigger city … it feels very much like there’s a different culture. There seems to be more violence, anecdotally, but it seems like it’s rougher on the streets right now than we’ve seen in a long time," she said.
"There seems to be a rougher culture now amount the individuals who have come, and it’s hard for us to connect with them because we don’t have that history."
While organizations like Samaritan House Ministries is doing the best it can with the expansion of its Safe and Warm shelter, they have been hampered by COVID-19 restrictions, Gasparini said.
The BNRC keeps track of the city’s homeless population through a point-in-time count, but that was also delayed due to the pandemic. One was scheduled for April 2020 — after the last one took place in 2018 — but it has been tentatively rescheduled for spring 2021.
The increase in homeless people has also made the problem more visual, especially downtown. The problem isn’t as visible when homeless people aren’t living in encampments, but Gasparini said the solution isn’t just to continually force people to move.
"It’s often been the solution just to remove the space that was available them thinking that will solve the problem, but it just moves the problem somewhere else," she said.
One place that appears to be used as an encampment is the former Greyhound bus terminal downtown. On Wednesday afternoon, scattered personal belongings and graffiti could be seen on the west side of the building, near the dumpster area people appeared to be living in last year.
The Sun reached out to Rijad Hadzic, one of the owners of the building, multiple times on Wednesday afternoon, but he could not be reached for comment.
A spokesperson for the City of Brandon said in an emailed statement the city’s planning and building department is working with the owners to completely secure the building.
"The city’s main goal is to protect the public from harm and the building from unnecessary damage, and so it is the hope that the property owners can complete steps in the coming weeks to completely secure the building," the statement reads.
Brandon police are also making regular visits to the building to ensure it is not being entered and the people sheltering there are not committing any crimes.
» Twitter: @DrewMay_
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