The acute and ongoing social, economic, cultural and political impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic cannot be overstated. Health and safety have required collective and social changes to everyday life affecting all members of society. That said, pre-pandemic vulnerability of some households and neighborhoods makes some individuals, families and communities more vulnerable to disaster and upheaval than others (Hilhorst and Bankoff, 2013; Fernandez et al., 2015). Thus, it is no surprise that the COVID 19 emergency is impacting different segments of society, differently. There is a risk that those who were already marginalized are being further marginalized by the effects of COVID 19. This is acutely evident in the core area of Winnipeg.
Every year the CCPA-Manitoba office and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) in Winnipeg come together to choose the focus of the State of the Inner City Report. Guided by the 4Rs of Indigenous research ethics (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 2001): responsibility, relevance, respect and reciprocity as well as the 5th R, relationships (Parent, 2009), the SIC chooses to engage in collaborative research that can have a direct, positive impact, on the people and the communities researched (McKinnon, 2018).
Way before COVID 19 emerged, it was often the CBOs who were, and remain, the unseen “frontline workers” identifying and responding to the needs of those on the margins – sometimes with and too often without – public funding and support. We recognize that in a time of austerity and neo-liberal economic and social policy CBOs are increasingly taking on the responsibilities of basic human rights to food, shelter, health care, safety and information things which are actually the responsibility of the state. Given increasing cuts to budgets and lack of political support this is neither a realistic nor sustainable situation.
This year the SIC focuses on how CBOs responded, and continue to respond, to the ongoing (at times chronic, at times acute) emergencies in their community within the context of a global pandemic that communal efforts at remaining physically apart. In what ways have CBOs been able to innovate and — to use a now tired word — “pivot” their services based on the needs on the ground within the constantly shifting context of health, political and economic realities. What support did they receive to do so? What support did they fail to receive? And perhaps, most importantly, what lessons were learned to help guide the CBOs as well as municipal, provincial, federal and Indigenous governments to plan and respond to the next inevitable crisis?
The Report itself will be centred around the experiences of frontline and managerial staff in a variety of CBOs throughout the core area of Winnipeg. We chose to interview both front line and managerial staff recognizing that their perspectives will be quite different – as are the communities they serve: youth, women, people who use drugs, seniors, Indigenous people, refugees and immigrants as well as people who hold multiple identities. Once again guided by the 5Rs of ethical research, after the interviews are completed at the end of October, we will engage in community consultation and analysis of the initial findings. The report itself will explore:
1. What things that had been previously, erroneously, been rendered as, “personal” (childcare, issues of Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence, work/life balance, mental and emotional health) have become part of public/political/professional discourse within the inner city of Winnipeg?What are the implications of these issues coming to the forefront of public policy in a neo-liberal economic and political context? What financial/political/technological supports are needed to create, implement, and sustain good, flexible, responsive public policy? What supports are now available? What supports are not available? How is accountability to people’s varied realities understood and respected?
2. How is the understanding, provision and actualization of basic needs (e.g. toilets, internet/ phones, plastic/no cash, childcare, housing, food, social connection etc.) affected by the COVID-19 pandemic? Using an anti-oppressive, anti- racism and anti- colonial, feminist framework: what are the long-term implications for inner-city Winnipeg? What are the current limitations of federal, provincial and municipal policy in addressing basic needs and what is needed to ensure a sustainable, healthy, inner city within the realities of COVID 19?
3. How can community-based and frontline organizations be ready to continue to deal with the everyday crises of life in vulnerable neighbourhoods, while also responding to the unprecedented challenge of the COVID-19 emergency? How have new challenges arisen (such as ensuring the health and protection of front-line workers) and older challenges been highlighted (such as highlighting the social determinants of health) What are the barriers to, and opportunities for, improving emergency preparedness and resilience in community-based and frontline organizations?
4. Through reflecting on the experiences of Mama Bear Clan (in North Point Douglas area), what are the impacts of COVID on urban Indigenous communities walking with the Mama Bear Clan?
5. Learning from this project as well as building from previous knowledge shared in the SIC reports, what are ways forward for the inner city of Winnipeg? How can we better harness crisis as opportunity in planning, not just responding, to crisis. What are the opportunities to leverage resources made available through the pandemic to achieve this vision?
This year’s release will be a multi-sited “rolling” launch. We will be holding several public events to highlight some of the Basic Needs that were impacted by COVID 19 (mental health, internet/phone and shelter) as well as an online community launch December 10th at 1 pm.
The project manager/community researcher is Dr. Shayna Plaut who specializes in human rights, journalism and critical qualitative research. Dr. Plaut teaches at both the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba and is a proud resident of West Broadway.
Dr. Niigaan Sinclair is leading the section on the impacts of COVID on urban Indigenous communities via walking with the Mama Bear Clan.
Justin Grift, a Masters Student in the Department of City Planning at the University of Manitoba, is providing invaluable research assistance for this project supported by a MITACS grant.Thank you to our funders: United Way Winnipeg, Manitoba Research Alliance via the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council, Assiniboine Credit Union and the Jubilee Fund.