Last fall, 105 Winnipeg families received shocking news. They were being evicted from their apartment complex in the Heritage Park neighbourhood. In just five months, they would no longer be able to call Greenway West home.
For some Greenway residents, finding new accommodation would not be easy.
“Many of these families were on income assistance and had few resources to seek alternative housing,” explains Major Julie Slous, then corps officer at Heritage Park Temple. “They were completely overwhelmed.”
The Salvation Army and Heritage Park Temple got involved almost immediately after the eviction notices were served.
“For the last four years, the corps has been building pastoral relationships with lower-income communities in the area,” says Major Slous. “When these families were in crisis, they came to us because they knew that we would do what we could to help them.”
Former Greenway resident Angela Harden says she felt comfortable approaching Heritage Park Temple for assistance because her four children had been involved with the corps' kids' club and she attended services occasionally.
“When I told Major Slous about the situation, she said she would talk to the right people so that something could be done,” says Harden. “She also told me to stay positive and that God would not lead us astray.”
Major Slous brought the situation to the attention of the local Neighbourhood Resource Network (NRN), an association of social services agencies in the St. James-Assiniboia district in Winnipeg that meets once a month to discuss issues affecting the community. In early October 2011, a special task force was formed to address the Greenway housing crisis, and the weekly meetings were held at The Salvation Army.
At this point, it was crucial for the task force to have front-line workers on the ground, talking to the Greenway residents. The Salvation Army was a key presence in the neighbourhood, collecting information and bringing it back to the task force.
“We spent a lot of time knocking on doors and finding out where people were at in their transitioning,” says Major Slous.
After meeting with almost all of the Greenway families, The Salvation Army identified 35 families that required more intensive assistance. These families had nowhere to go, but they also didn't have the means or the capacity to negotiate with new landlords. In addition, many of them were dealing with mental health issues and unemployment.
To assist these families, Heritage Park Temple set up a house-hunting service and helped people negotiate new leases. The corps also facilitated a meeting between the Greenway families and the Residential Tenancies Branch in Winnipeg so that the people could learn about their rights as tenants.
From October 2011 to March 2012, corps members followed up with families weekly to ensure that their housing plans were progressing. By mid-March, every family had found new accommodation, including Harden, who says her new home is a great improvement over Greenway: “It's big, it's in a safe neighbourhood and the kids like it.
“The Salvation Army was very supportive,” she adds. “If it wasn't for them, I don't know where my family would be now.”
According to Major Slous, this level of success was made possible by the task-force model adopted by the NRN. The task force brought together decision-makers from various agencies, who could then combine their resources and use their power to take immediate action. Local MLA Sharon Blady, a member of the NRN, says that the Manitoba government sees the Greenway task force as a model for future crisis situations.
On March 25, The Salvation Army held a recognition event at Heritage Park Temple to honour the success of the task force. Major Slous says the purpose of the event was, first and foremost, to give glory to God for what had been accomplished, as well as celebrate the partnerships that had been strengthened through the situation and give residents a chance to tell their stories.
Blady, who also spoke at the event, commends The Salvation Army for their role in resolving the Greenway crisis.
“I'm so thankful for the work that's being done in the community by The Salvation Army,” says Blady. “It's wonderful to see people working for their community, not just out of the goodness of their hearts, but out of a drive to make the world a better place. It's a living example of faith.”