Out of Sight and Out of Mind: How (Not) to Solve Homelessness in Thompson

By Tyler Craig

Housing advocates in Thompson are alarmed by a recent proposal by a group of business owners to push homelessness out of sight.

Last month, a group of business owners in Thompson sent a letter to Thompson Unlimited, the city’s economic development corporation, with a list of 15 recommendations on how to deal with homelessness in the community. The proposal included ideas such as moving the homeless shelter to the outskirts of the city and reducing the size of the sign on the shelter.  The short sightedness of these business owners is further reflected in asking “Does one ever consider that this [homelessness] may be by choice”.

The letter reads in part:

“Move the Homeless Shelter to an outer area location closer to the Hospital, AFM or bus depot (how many Ambulance trips are made monthly from Downtown to Hospital at Tax payers’ expense?) And honestly, with the Welfare system in place in this Country, why are people homeless? Does one ever consider this may be by choice? Honestly, putting a shelter across from the liquor store and close to establishments offering same is like placing drugs all around a drug addict and hoping they will resist temptation.”

The letter was received last month but only became public at this week’s council meeting.

The root causes of homelessness in Thompson, Manitoba are varied and complex. Given that many homeless people are of Aboriginal ancestry, it would seem logical to address issues of residential school traumas and their intergenerational effects, cultural loss and the effects of colonization. In not addressing these root causes, addiction and mental health issues often arise which results in increased policing and health care costs.

However, a case management initiative called Project Northern Doorway started last year identified 28 clients that were long-term homeless residents. The results are promising as 5 clients have secured permanent housing. However, there have been 8 of these clients who have died in the past year which suggests that case management alone is not enough.

It is recognized that a housing first initiative is needed in Thompson. Project Northern Doorway is in the process of securing funding support so that they can provide supportive housing to help people off the streets. Housing First models in other Canadian cities have been successful and this model of support is needed in northern Manitoba. If Thompson’s business owners are truly committed to solving the homeless issue, then instead of proposing solutions blame and hide the homeless, they should support the housing first initiative in securing the resources they need.

Tyler Craig is a pre-master’s student at University of Manitoba studying housing issues.