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Working to build a stronger Inner City in Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Inner City Research Alliance (WIRA) began with the
objectives of highlighting inner city problems identified by inner city
residents and informing the policy process to help address those
concerns. It was also hoped that the research would help build community
capacity and strength to help address the challenges faced by people
living in the inner city. In a small way these objectives have been
achieved by WIRA–sponsored research projects undertaken by the academic
and community partnerships.

This is the second issue of the Canadian Journal of Urban Research
sponsored by WIRA. Support from the Community University Research
Alliance (CURA) program funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council (SSHRC) and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) have made both the research and these publications possible.

This articles in the past issue (CJUR 14:1 Summer 2005) and in this
current issue (CJUR 15:1 Summer 2006) demonstrate that WIRA research has
been very focused on problems people face and the challenges experienced
by people who have been marginalized or are at the “struggle
level” in Winnipeg’s inner city. This focus is what the
program hoped to achieve: effective solutions cannot be found until the
complexity of issues and problems is fully understood.

However, we don’t want to leave the impression that the inner
city is a wasteland without assets and capacity to address these issues.
There are many strong organizations working very hard to improve the
quality of life of the individuals and groups who face the challenges
that the research projects and articles in this journal document. Some
of these organizations were involved as community research partners in
the WIRA projects that form the basis of the articles in this issue. A
brief profile of these organizations is provided below.

Two closely associated organizations, Ten Ten Sinclair Housing Inc.
and Fokus Management Inc. promote, support and develop independent
living for people with physical disabilities. Both provide assisted
living housing with a range of on-site support services such as
assistance with personal care, household tasks, and health needs.
Established in the mid-1970s, Ten Ten Sinclair provides a transitional
living situation where people develop the skills to live independently,
and in partnership with Fokus housing operates independent living
housing and services in the community. Fokus housing offers permanent
housing and permanent, shared support services for physically disabled
adults.

The First Nations DisABILITY Association of Manitoba is an
organization that provides culturally appropriate peer support, advocacy
and referral services to First Nations persons with disabilities
throughout the province. A large part of the organization’s work
includes workshops and activities that raise awareness of visible and
invisible disability issues as they apply to First Nations people. It
strives to achieve the social and economic enhancement of First Nations
persons living with disabilities and works toward the elimination of any
and all societal limitations and/or barriers.

Sage House, a program of Mount Carmel Clinic, is a street outreach
and health drop-in resource centre primarily for sex trade workers. It
also provides services to any street involved women and transgenders,
including intravenous drug users and street youth. It provides
information, advocacy, counseling, testing, assessment and treatment
plus referrals to medical and social services. Sage House also offers
supports and assistance to help meet clients’ basic needs including
kitchen, laundry and bathing facilities.

In the same area of Winnipeg’s inner city are two
organizations that undertake more broadly targeted community development
work. The North End Housing Project provides opportunities for home
ownership for low-income families through building and renovating
housing in several inner city neighbourhoods. The organization is a
partner in the Aboriginal Youth Renovation Program which offers
Aboriginal ex-offenders the opportunity to gain renovation and
construction skills. Through this and other programs and activities,
North End Housing contributes to neighbourhood renewal.

Another community development organization in the area is the North
End Community Renewal Corporation. Its mandate is to promote the
economic, social and cultural renewal of the neighbourhoods in
Winnipeg’s North End. It works to achieve this through job
creation, employment development for local residents, improving the
quality and accessibility of housing in the area, promoting renewal and
development of business activity, reducing crime, improving the image of
the community, and offering cultural and community development
opportunities. The corporation provides coordination support and a
strategic focus for many of the other community revitalization activities taking place in the North End. A number of similar community
development organizations exist throughout the inner city, each offering
a range of activities and programs created to overcome challenges
associated with marginalization, and tailored to meet the needs of area
residents.

SEED Winnipeg Inc., also in Winnipeg’s North End, offers a
variety of services and supports to low-income individuals, groups,
organizations and neighbourhoods to improve economic vitality, combat
poverty, and contribute to renewal of inner city communities. At SEED,
individuals can access guidance in financial management and saving for
long-term assets. Social research, program development, marketing,
organizational training, proposal writing and technical assistance is
provided for new or existing businesses and organizations engaged in
community economic development.

Assiniboine Credit Union also offers services for local community
economic development initiatives and supports social development, with a
commitment to building strong self-reliant communities that continue to
prosper and grow. Through policies embracing fairness and justice, extra
efforts are made to meet the needs of those not well served by
traditional financial institutions.

In fact, both SEED Winnipeg and the Assiniboine Credit Union are
partners (among others) in the Alternative Financial Services Coalition
(AFSC). This initiative focuses on the development of customized
financial services geared to low-income residents in the inner city, to
increase their opportunities to improve their economic well being. The
work of the AFSC is based on community economic development principles,
with an emphasis on co-operation, education, participation,
self-reliance, and social dignity.

The work of these and many similar organizations in Winnipeg’s
inner city make a positive difference. However, despite their best
efforts, problems persist and many people in Winnipeg’s inner city
continue to face a very bleak existence. The organizations themselves
struggle to maintain their operations and the services they provide.
Long term funding is rarely secure nor is it sufficient to respond to
all the needs. Many groups spend much of their valuable time preparing
applications and requests for funding, responding to proposal calls,
raising funds through charitable functions, meeting with various levels
of government and engaging generally in a search for funds to continue
their operations. Without long term secure and sustaining funds it is
difficult to develop solid strategic plans for the future, and maintain
programs to respond to the many needs of the people living in the inner
city. Government funding is available to assist these organizations and
funding through the provincial Neighbourhoods Alive! Program is making a
positive difference with its support for housing, community economic
development, community safety and many other initiatives. All three
orders of government make contributions through the Winnipeg Partnership
Agreement and the Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative to fund a
range of programs that support inner city revitalization efforts. But is
it enough?

The task of organizations working in the inner city is not getting
any easier. In addition to the funding challenges they face, there are a
number of societal trends causing an ever-increasing need for their
services. Processes of economic restructuring have resulted in a number
of changes to the labour market that have disproportionately affected
inner city populations. Over the last couple of decades the labour
market shifted emphasis to part-time and temporary jobs with less
security and fewer benefits attached. There have also been declining
employment opportunities for people with low skill levels as many blue
collar-manufacturing positions disappeared, moved to suburban locations,
or even other countries. The generally low level of education and skills
among inner city residents means they have been disproportionately
affected by these trends. This has resulted in an increase in long-term
unemployment for many inner-city people. More people are forced to rely
on unemployment insurance and social assistance.

The social safety net that many of the more marginalized groups
depend on has weakened, leaving many people even more vulnerable than
they were in the past. It has become much more difficult to qualify for
unemployment insurance benefits, and those who do qualify have seen
their benefits reduced. Social assistance rates have not increased to
keep pace with the cost of living, leaving people even further in
poverty and dependent on food banks and other service agencies. A recent
report on welfare incomes by the National Council of Welfare (2006)
illustrates very clearly how far increases in welfare incomes have
fallen behind the increases in the cost of living and the depth of
poverty people on welfare experience. Many of the new arrivals to
Winnipeg (Aboriginal people and refugees) also lack the education and
skills to access adequate employment, placing even greater pressure on
the social safety net and the many service agencies in the inner city.

At the same time that inner city residents’ purchasing power is decreasing, the supply of affordable housing is also diminishing,
leaving them with substantially fewer housing options. In recent years
the supply of affordable housing has declined due to lower levels of
government funding for publicly subsidized housing and reduced
investment in private sector rentals. This is compounded by the growing
number of people seeking affordable housing. The increasing number of
low-income immigrants and refugees arriving in Winnipeg and the movement
of low-income Aboriginal people to the city place even greater pressure
on the declining inventory of affordable rental units. So many people
are on the waiting lists for publicly subsidized affordable
accommodation that waiting times are months, and even years. This has
meant that many households are forced to pay unreasonable amounts of
their income for poorer quality units where they often live in very
crowded circumstances. This is particularly true for Aboriginal people,
refugees and people living on social assistance. More households are
falling into the category of “hidden homeless.” They become
“couch surfers” living with friends or relatives or are at
risk of losing their accommodation because they cannot afford the rent,
the unit gets condemned, or it simply becomes an inadequate living
environment. This difficult housing situation in combination with other
factors has also contributed to the higher number of homeless people on
the street.

These societal trends combined with limited levels of funding from
governments and a weakening social safety net means that the level of
socioeconomic marginalization and associated poverty remains high in
Winnipeg’s inner city. The articles in this journal document the
difficulties faced by some of these marginalized populations, based on
the work of WIRA community-university research partnership projects.

The first two articles examine the intersection of issues involving
disabilities, housing and community. “Housing for Assisted Living
in Inner-City Winnipeg: A Social Analysis of Housing Options for People
with Disabilities” by Owen and Watters, provides an assessment of
the appropriateness of an inner city location for assisted living
housing for younger adults with disabilities. This analysis reaches
beyond the walls and into the surrounding inner city community to
examine issues such as personal safety, proximity to and accessibility
of amenities and services, and the potential impact of these factors on
residents’ quality of life. The next article also highlights these
issues, in this case relating to the needs unique to people with
disabilities who are dying. How cultural and social aspects of housing
that create a sense of home help ease their final life stages is
examined in Stienstra and Wiebe’s research “Finding Our Way
Home: Home and End-of-life Transitions for People with
Disabilities.”

The often vast complexity of issues faced by marginalized groups is
brought to light in “Challenges Faced by Women Working in the Inner
City Sex Trade. ” In this article, Brown, et. al. put forth the
words of female sex trade workers to illuminate the personal, systemic
and societal barriers that brought them to the trade and that keep them
from exiting. Difficulty accessing income assistance is primary among
these barriers and contributes significantly to the challenges of
overcoming other obstacles in their lives.

Difficulty obtaining income assistance is certainly not unique to
sex trade workers, but it is common among many marginalized populations.
In the article “Welfare In Winnipeg’s Inner City: Exploring
The Myths” Sheldrick et. al., explore the stereotypes and
misconceptions that underpin the welfare system and influence how
benefits are allocated. This puts applicants and recipients in positions
of disadvantage in trying to understand and negotiate a system that does
not offer supports corresponding to their needs.

This is supported in Kohm’s article entitled “‘Welfare is the second last resort. The last resort is
death.’ An Exploratory Analysis of Social Assistance, Victimization and Crime. ” This research involved the “poorest of the
poor” of social assistance recipients who reported constantly
struggling to access and maintain their welfare benefits. A main issue
faced by this marginalized population is that of being victims of crime
that escalates around “welfare cheque days.” A related issue
raised in this article is the reliance on cheque-cashing services due to
a lack of access in the inner city to financial services that meet the
needs of marginalized populations. This issue was examined closely by
Buckland and Martin in the first WIRA sponsored issue (CJUR 14:1 Summer
2005) in the article “Two-Her Banking: The Rise of Fringe Banks in
Winnipeg’s Inner City.” Kohm’s article concludes that
victimization of welfare recipients could be decreased by the
establishment of a community-based financial institution that is
responsive to their needs.

A number of models of this type of financial service are described
in the final article “Fringe Financial Services, Inner-city Banking
& Community-based Solutions. ” Authors Buckland et. al. examine
alternative financial institutions that charge reasonable transaction
fees, encourage savings, are conveniently located in the inner city and
are welcoming and accessible. This article outlines the feasibility and
plans for the establishment of a community financial services center in
Winnipeg’s inner city that would remove the barriers many
marginalized people face in accessing mainstream banking services, while
remaining affordable and convenient.

Clearly there are many strong organizations working to improve the
quality of life of inner city residents. They are doing an outstanding
job of delivering programs and services to marginalized people. It is
just as clear, however, that the number of marginalized people in the
inner city remains very high. They face increased difficulties accessing
affordable housing, adequate employment opportunities and a range of
other support services required to improve their lives. Governments are
providing support but more support is needed. When the WIRA initiative
began, the focus was on community/university partnership research to
build a stronger inner city. Because of the support and dedication of
both academic and community partners and funding from SSHRC and CMHC,
WIRA has been able to make a positive difference in creating a
foundation of knowledge on which to build a stronger inner city.
However, overcoming the significant challenges facing the inner city and
its residents requires a strong and on-going partnership between
community, government, the private sector, the voluntary sector, the
academic community and many others. The battle has still not been won
and when one looks at the many difficult challenges people in the inner
city face, the obvious conclusion is that there is much work to be done.
Winnipeg, however, has a history of rising to challenges. The many
positive initiatives in the inner city and the work of many community
based organizations leaves much room for hope.

References

National Council of Welfare. 2006. Welfare Incomes, 2005, Minister
of Public Works and Government Services Canada, Ottawa.

Tom Carter Canada Research Chair in Urban Change and Adaptation and
Professor of Geography

Anita Friesen Community Liaison Director Winnipeg Inner City
Research Alliance

COPYRIGHT 2006 Institute of Urban Studies


No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.

Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.


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