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Message from Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Executive Director, Stefano Grande
Downtown Winnipeg is an incredible place, filled with passionate and creative people. The culture, history, art, sports, and music scene is what gives our downtown its uniqueness and attracts millions of people annually. And recent revitalization efforts are leading to more and more people living, working and visiting downtown. Over $2 billion in investments and over 100 projects have set the foundation of the rebirth of our downtown. You can see it and feel it as you walk through the Exchange District, Waterfront Drive, or simply when you take a walk along Portage Avenue on a hot summer day. The new downtown farmers’ market, indigenous marketplace, movie screenings at the park, concerts, yoga, and festivals galore, demonstrate how downtown is once again closer to becoming a place where Winnipeggers gather, celebrate, and belong.
It’s true that the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ is one of the greatest boosters of our downtown. We’re not afraid to admit that. We are also passionate and fierce in our desire to constantly improve it, too. Issues like homelessness and poverty are visible throughout the core. We want to shed light on this complex and intricate issue – to further improve our downtown for all. Downtown’s physical transformation must be accompanied by social revitalization.
For many, homelessness is not a choice. People live with addictions and mental health issues, and are trying their best to survive on the streets of downtown. Youth, men, women, and seniors of all shapes and cultures, often share similar experiences – they are homeless and they are marginalized. For many Winnipeggers, homelessness is a misunderstood issue. Ignorance can often cultivate fear and intimidation.
The Downtown Winnipeg BIZ has joined the efforts of many social agencies and not-for-profit and government organizations: to end homelessness once and for all. Yes, we can end homelessness. For those who are ready, willing, and able – there is hope.
We have a vision. By helping people in need, we can improve our downtown and city for everyone. And in doing so, we can create a more tolerant city for our future generations. It’s a clear vision, a simple one. But one that can only be achieved when our entire community comes together and demands a solution.
We have a plan. We will continue to raise awareness about the solutions needed to end homelessness: Housing First, employment, and access to services. As long as this issue exists, we will continue to raise our voice with others, encouraging positive and productive dialogue. Every September, as part of our CEO Sleepout, we ask community and corporate leaders to lend their insight and voice to champion an end to homelessness. This night also enables us to raise funds to employ the homeless to work, to gain confidence and self-esteem, to contribute in a positive way downtown. The agencies that receive funding create and execute these employment programs, and we stay out of the way. Our role is to support, not to duplicate.
Stories of Change are the narratives of Winnipeggers who have overcome struggle through the support of the community and the CEO Sleepout. With employment and housing connections, they have painted murals downtown, planted flowers, swept sidewalks, ploughed snow during the winter, and have helped out at various downtown events.
These are their stories. As you read them and study their faces, a reality will set in. This person could be a friend, a relative, or even a spouse. Addictions and mental health challenges do not discriminate. And at times, our supports, friends and family, may not be there to help us.
These are their stories. Are we ready to listen? And are we ready to demand a city that is safe and prosperous for everyone?